Many people like their sports as a self-containing entity that does not infringe upon any of the social issues of the day.
Yet sports aren’t played in a bubble, and throughout history they have intersected the critical social and political issues of the time.
The Brooklyn Dodgers will forever be remembered as the team for whom Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Today that’s seen as a landmark achievement; in 1947, it pissed off a heck of a lot of Dodgers fans.
Marc Stein surveyed 14 NBA teams and found six that believe Jason Collins will play in the NBA next season and eight that don’t. Of course, the consensus was that this had more to do with his playing ability than sexual orientation, yet signing Jason Collins now will be much different than signing him a week ago.
You’re inviting a sizable amount of media attention for the entire organization to deal with. Players will now be asked questions some may not be comfortable answering. You also will likely be upsetting some of your fan base, as sad as it is that that is the case in 2013.
At the same time, you will be the Brooklyn Dodgers of gay male athletes in professional sports. There will be increased sponsorship opportunities for your team potentially, and you will become the team the LGBT community rallies around as much as it can rally around a third-string center in his 13th year in the league. In some markets, such as Golden State, this could be tremendously positive. Other markets would face a much more difficult challenge making such a move.
I feel like the Suns would be completely open to signing Collins, or any future homosexual player, based on their history.
Three years ago during a critical home playoff game against the Spurs, the Suns wore “Los Suns” jerseys to oppose an immigration bill that many of their fans supported. A few years back when both were Suns, and starred in a “Think Before You Speak” PSA to drive home the point that it’s not OK to insult somebody by calling them gay.
The organization also fully supported former president and CEO Rick Welts when he announced he was gay two years ago, making him the first such sports executive to come out of the closet. The organization handled it so well Welts may as well have been announcing that orange was his favorite color it was such a non-issue. The players, led by Nash and Hill at the time, felt the same way.
Overall I feel like Collins’ decision to come out reflects where we are in society with this issue. We aren’t all the way there, but Collins is paving the way for future athletes to come out before their 13th season in the league when they don’t have much to lose anymore.
There will be pockets of intolerance both in locker rooms and most certainly in fan bases, but ultimately I truly feel most teams and fan bases will embrace Collins and his plight.
In fact, decades down the line we will wonder why Collins coming out of the closet was such a big deal just like today it seems so strange that African-Americans once weren’t allowed to play Major League Baseball.