Definitely a First; But Will it be a Game Changer?

It’s time to Break It Down!

I was faced with a “Split the Baby” dilemma when deciding what to write about today.  Two separate and compelling (for me) stories called out to my faculties for discernment Monday.  It’s no secret, I am not gifted with Solomon’s wisdom.  Still, I had a blog to compose.  Ultimately, I’m a huge basketball fan, and Jason Collins’ story of coming to grips with his authentic self, and subsequently sharing his voice in a way that challenges convention, carried the day.

But I’m also an unrepentant homer, at heart.  As such, the fact that President Obama affirmed his nomination of Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx as the nation’s next Transportation Secretary caused me to beam with pride.  Mayor Foxx’s nomination is significant for many reasons.  The President has inured a fair amount of criticism for a lack of diversity in his second Cabinet.  I’m an strong and unequivocal supporter of the Commander-in-Chief…, but I have no hesitation in expressing the view that this particular criticism is “well-earned.” 

Needless to say, I am delighted President Obama redressed a grievance held by so many of his supporters (including me); I am pleased that Mayor Foxx has earned an opportunity to take his talent, skill, and ability to the national stage; I’m happy the City of Charlotte will benefit from the temporary bounce emanating from the media references that accrue from the Mayor’s nomination, and hopefully what will be a relatively non-eventful confirmation process.  

As an aside, in keeping with my homerism, I should mention that, today, President Obama is expected to name North Carolina 12th Congressional District Representative Mel Watt (of Charlotte) as his nominee to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).  The agency regulates Fannie MaeFreddie Mac, and the 12 Federal Home Loan Banks.  Thank you Mr. President, and congratulations Mayor Foxx and Representative Watt.           

By now you probably know that on Monday, in a “Sports Illustrated” (SI) essay, Jason Collins, an NBA Center, came out.”  In doing so, Collins became the first active male player in any of the four major American professional team sports (Basketball, Baseball, Football, & Hockey) to admit he is gay.  Other players have revealed their homosexuality, but not until after their career had ended.

Reaction across the always interesting landscape of the NBA has been surprisingly supportive.  For several weeks now, there had been a whisper that a collection of professional players, probably from several different professional leagues, would participate in what amounts to a communal revelation, or joint “coming out.”  While that might represent more of a sea change, and could still occur, this…is not that.

It may certainly be argued, Jason Collins has chosen “The Road Less Traveled.”  By standing alone in the breach, he eschewed (what for some may be) the comfortable notion of safety in numbers for the clarity of authoring, delivering, and to some degree, controlling his own message.  Collins has been widely lauded and applauded for his courageous action.  He has collected a Who’s Who list of calls, tweets, and supportive comments from dignitaries and celebrities, including:

Of course the reaction to Jason’s revelation was not all sweetness and lightESPN Analyst Chris Broussard weighed in with a lack of acceptance.  In describing his position, Broussard said:

“Personally, I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle, or an openly premarital sex between heterosexuals.  If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, the Bible says you know them by their fruits, it says that’s a sin.  I think that is walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ.”

In making his comments, Broussard added that he had spoken with a number of players and general managers, and reaction was mixed.  He asserted that even in cases in which a player of GM might disagree, they would be loath to say so, for fear of being labeled a bigot, or being perceived as impolitic.

Broussard, for his part, may have been insightful, but he was definitely not immune to the Shoot the messenger syndrome.  Regardless of whether he was well-intended or even pointedly accurate, the vibe on this matter is that the commentary…the official commentary anyway, is going to be pro-Collins.

The short story here is Jason Collins was deeply and securely “closeted.”  He played collegiately at Stanford, and was drafted in the 1st Round with the 18th pick by the NBA’s New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets in 2001.  He has played 12 years in the League.  When he told his twin brother Jarron last summer, Jarron had no idea.  Incidentally, the twins played together at Stanford, and both were drafted in 2001…Jarron in the 2nd Round; 52nd pick.

In his SI essay, Jason admits he dated women, and actually was once engaged.  It is unfortunate he felt compelled to portray a character rather than be himself.  Perhaps he will choose acting as his next career, and use his considerable skills to achieve an end he will deem more suitable.

There is no bigger fan or fan group, of Collins’ move, than the Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Transgender (LGBT) community.  The buzz seems to indicate there is a strong feeling that Collins’ action will help engender heightened momentum for the movement.

The move by Collins is a first; it’s even groundbreaking.  But at least three questions remain open, for the moment at least.

Collins is a Free Agent, a 12-year veteran, and near the end of a pedestrian NBA career.  He is a 7-footer who had his moments, including playing an integral part on a Nets team that made it to the NBA Finals.  However, this year, he averaged 1.1 points, and 1.6 rebounds per game.  The first question is, “Will he be re-signed?”

Even without Monday’s  announcement, there were long odds on Jason’s career being extended.  If he is not re-signed by the Wizards, his current team, or traded to, or signed by another NBA squad, there will be those who question whether the decision was tied to the essay.  Based on the value proposition alone, such a suggestion, while not inconceivable, is improbable. Conversely, there is an argument that his revelation, in and of itself, may contribute to extending his career.  We shall see!  

An additional consideration is Collins has never been a marquee player, nor put up stratospheric stats.  For his career, Jason averaged 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds during the Regular Season, and 3.3 points and 3.8 rebounds during the Playoffs.  As such, the announcement by him does not hold the same cachet as if a vastly more successful player had taken the same step.  Ergo, the second question is, “Does Collins’ move resonate throughout the NBA and other professional sports, long-term?”

The prospect of Collins playing again is iffy at best, but even if he does, it is not yet clear whether his initiative will at least motivate other individuals, or groups of male professional team sport players to step up and reveal that they are gay.  If it does, then the aforementioned sea change just might be underway. 

To that end, I leave you with the third and final question; “Definitely a First; But Will it be a Game Changer?”

I’m done; holla back!

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