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Kragthorpe: Jason Collins should be embraced in Utah, by NBA

Published April 30, 2013 9:11 am

NBA • His coming out is a big deal that sets stage for it not to be a big deal in future
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Only a year after informing family members and friends that he's gay, NBA veteran Jason Collins decided he was ready to tell everyone else.

The issue, as of Monday's announcement via Sports Illustrated, is whether the world is ready to deal properly with this news.

Is the NBA ready?

Are you ready?

I sincerely hope so. What if the Jazz, potentially in the market for a backup to young center Enes Kanter, sign Collins this summer? How would he be received in Utah?

He should be embraced to the same degree as any other 7-foot, black, 34-year-old, Stanford-educated basketball player with considerable experience and limited talent.

Whatever happens, and wherever it happens, the words of Collins' twin brother provide an insightful summary to a series of unanswered questions. In an accompanying SI piece, former Jazz center Jarron Collins wrote, "This is uncharted territory, and no one can predict how it will play out. It's a big deal — but it's also not a big deal. When the media crush is over, Jason will have the strength to deal with whatever challenges come from being openly gay."

That's an enlightened, sensitive response. In reality, this is very big stuff, with lasting impact. Now that Jason Collins has declared himself the first active gay athlete in a major American sport, others are likely to follow.

Someday, such an announcement may barely register, with no more impact than the news of a minor league shortstop being traded. In 2013, it's huge. By coming out now, Collins is gambling whatever is left of his career. Much is at stake for the NBA, as well. Commissioner David Stern wants the league to be viewed as progressive. Yet if all 30 teams make basketball-based decisions that Collins cannot help them at this stage of his career, the assumption — inevitably, if incorrectly — will be that his sexuality played into their judgment of him.

In any case, Collins' announcement took some courage, and others will benefit from him — much as John Amaechi's announcement in 2007, four years after his NBA career ended with the Jazz, ultimately helped Collins. A year from now, it would not be surprising to have openly gay athletes in multiple pro sports in this country.

You don't have to be a champion of gay rights to appreciate what Collins is doing. By imagining ourselves in any setting or culture where being different invites derision, we should gain a sense of what this means for him. In his case, he had a choice about going public now or waiting until he retired from the NBA. The timing makes this significant.

So if his motivation is personal, his impact is societal.

Jarron Collins, who played 480 games for the Jazz from 2001-09 as a second-round draft choice from Stanford, where he played with his brother, weaved some humor into his SI account: "I already anticipate the questions: 'Are you the gay twin or the straight one?' "

He also knows this is a serious issue, with major effects for his brother, his family and the world. Jarron could not have said this any better: "He's my brother, he's a great guy, and I want him to be happy. I'll love him and I'll support him and, if necessary, I'll protect him."

If Jason Collins ends up playing for the Jazz, or even against the Jazz for a visiting team at EnergySolutions Arena, I'll use my forum to follow his brother's example, and hope and pray that others do the same. I'm with Jarron. This is a big deal — and not a big deal.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt