A look at Jason Collins who set aside years of worry and silence to become the first active player in one of four major North American professional sports leagues to come out as gay.
Who is Jason Collins?
The seven-foot, 255-pound centre is a veteran of 12 NBA seasons and currently a free agent hoping to remain in the league. He was the 19th overall pick in the 2001 draft and has played for New Jersey, Memphis, Minnesota, Atlanta, Boston and, most recently, Washington, averaging 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, playing for nine playoff teams and in two NBA finals. His most productive years were with the Nets early in his career. Mr. Collins’s twin brother, Jarron, is also an NBA centre.
He calls himself the first to come out. How is he ‘the first’?
No other athlete from a team in the NBA, NHL, NFL or MLB has ever come out publicly during his playing career. That by no means suggests that he is the first athlete in the world to do so.
Who are some other gay sports figures who have been pioneers?
Tennis star Martina Navratilova came out while an active player in 1981, while Billie Jean King did so after retiring as a singles player, and both trailblazers lost millions in endorsements when the news hit. In 2009, Gareth Thomas announced he was gay while still a star pro Welsh rugby player. John Amaechi (NBA) and David Kopay (NFL) came out after retiring. Sheryl Swoopes, the “Michael Jordan of the WNBA,” announced she was gay in 2005; the recent top WNBA pick, Brittney Griner, came out earlier this month by casually mentioning it in an interview, and one headline later read: Female star comes out as gay and sports world shrugs. Nike signed her just days later.
What marketing opportunities might be expected for Mr. Collins?
Experts suggest Mr. Collins could make millions of dollars for speaking engagements, books and endorsements from companies trying to court the LGBT population, but he won’t make as much as he would have if he was a younger, more recognizable player.
“There are a lot of gay-friendly companies that would want to use him in a positive, uplifting sort of message,” says Bob Dorfman, a creative director at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco, who has expertise in sports marketing. “But there could be a little backlash, where people could say, ‘That company is just using this gay athlete to make a quick buck off of him.’ A company would have to be very careful about how they talk about him, as not to be perceived as just taking advantage of him and capitalizing on the moment.”
Between endorsements, books and speaking, Mr. Dorfman projects Mr. Collins could make seven figures. Mr. Dorfman suggests companies like Apple, Target and Levis might be interested since they have marketed to the LGBT market before. Or perhaps a traditional sports brand, like Nike or Gatorade, could make him part of a larger campaign of athletes, but not likely the signature figure.
“The smart ones will not wrap a bow around him and say, ‘Look, here’s a gay athlete,’ but instead they’ll say ‘Look, here’s a good guy,’” says Bob Witeck, president of Witeck Communications, a Washington, D.C.-based expert on strategies targeting the LGBT market. “He’s not a hero and he’s not a victim, and he’s not a saint because he’s gay. Being gay is just a part of his story that people are fascinated with, because he broke a barrier.”
With a report from Hayley Mick