A Right to Choose

By Davis Jones

Jason Collins, a center in the National Basketball Association, made the announcement in April that he is gay, writing a cover story for Sports Illustrated that received praise from homosexuality advocates and teammates alike. Now, a few weeks before the regular season starts, Collins still finds himself unsigned and without a team.

One speculation stems from Collins’s age. His career statistics of just 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game could reflect a 34-year-old’s skills that many teams believe are just not worth the money. Another speculation is darkly obvious; the New York Times quoted one team’s general manager who spoke anonymously in saying that “some teams just might not want to deal with it because of the media implications.”
The sooner we as a culture summon enough dignity to call ‘it’ by its real name, the sooner we can address the professionally ‘right’ choice for an NBA team: someone should take a chance and sign Jason Collins. Because he’s gay.

Hear this: I don’t think a team should take a chance because some think it as the morally ‘right’ action to take, nor because it champions a certain cause. Whether his orientation is ‘right’ or not in the first place is beside the point. That’s outside the realm of what I hold the right to judge. Plus, a professional player’s sexual orientation bears no lasting influence on an ability to throw a basketball through a hoop.

I don’t mean for my answer to contradict that given by Los Angeles Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers either. He told the Times that, should one of his players injure himself, and Collins isn’t signed, he would do so. “I’m not signing him because he’s gay,” Rivers said. “I’m not signing him because it’s a story and it brings us attention. I’m signing him because he has a value to help us win.”

During his 12-year career, Collins helped the New Jersey Nets reach consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003. His teammates often tell of his excellence with the game’s unsung but necessary skills like defending the post and setting screens, each of which derive from a savviness that the box score rarely shows. I believe in Rivers’s same value. Collins could help any team win. He could provide the necessary leadership and intangible play to a league that seems to grow younger every year.

Collin’s holds another kind of leadership experience, but its effects span outside the box score completely. A team should sign Collins because he championed a foe in April that was tougher than any All-Star or set-back he’s faced yet – the years of doubt, anxiety and unrest that plagued his decision to reveal his homosexuality.

It’s no surprise, then, that the amount of praise Collins has garnered from his choice is equaled by its criticism. Upon the announcement, ESPN Basketball Analyst Chris Broussard said he did not believe that Collins could live an openly homosexual lifestyle and still be a Christian. “If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be…, I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ,” he said.

It would be a mistake to think that Collins has not been a target of countless verbal daggers throughout these last few months. Battling for a victory against Shaquille O’Neal doesn’t even comes close to battling for a personal victory regarding your livelihood, for an element of his so inherent that it compelled him to reveal it to a national audience.

I want that man on my team.

He’ll chip in some stats, sure. But I want him to show my young players how you can overcome any obstacle – any obstacle – with courageous perseverance. If it’s presumptuous to assume that Collins knows how to fight adversity, then NBA managers have no reason to keep referring to homosexuality as some bodiless ‘it,’ as a noun that is speechless only when it opens the closet door.

I think Jason Collins is a champion. He’s shown he’s ready to play. Now the only thing left is for a coach to put him in.