Manti Teo and Jason Collins. One is a promising athlete at the beginning of his career, the other, a role player near the end. One was outspoken about a romantic partnership and was widely ridiculed when the truth came out. The other kept a secret about his romantic partners, and was applauded when he came out as gay.
Even if Jason Collins' NBA career is nearing the end, it should still have one more triumphant moment. PHOTO: Reuters
Manti Teo and Jason Collins. One, Teo, is a promising athlete at the beginning of his career, the other, Collins, a longterm role player near the end. One was outspoken about a romantic partnership and was widely made fun of when the truth came out. The other kept a secret about his romantic feelings and partners, and was widely applauded when he came out as gay.
The same question about next season came up for both of them: who would ignore or embrace those storylines and sign the player? Teo had baggage that no team wanted to take on, but he has talent that any team would welcome. Perhaps his bizarre embarrassment made teams pass him up, but the San Diego Chargers took him in the second round, 38th overall (short version of Teo's story if you missed it: Teo was a feelgood story for rising above the tragedy of his girlfriend dying in a car crash and having a great season...until it was revealed that his girlfriend didn't exist, which was news to everyone, including Teo).
With Teo, talent eventually trumped the publicity he will inevitably draw. Collins faces the opposite problem: teams might want to sign him as a good will gesture to show that they support him for coming out as gay. Here's the potential problem: Collins only has so much to offer an NBA team on the court. He's been a good role player, but in recent years he has bounced from team to team, and his games played and minutes per game have dwindled. He's 34, and at this point, probably a third-string center.
Let's imagine that, on basketball grounds, no team wants to sign Collins to more than a training camp invite. What then? It would be a step backwards if the first out gay active player was pushed into retirement. It would be easy enough to say that no one wanted to deal with the attention and (drastically overblown) locker room complications of having a gay player. Here is what should happen:
A high-profile, big city team, think the New York Knicks, L.A. Lakers, Miami Heat (and yes, a liberal city wouldn't hurt here), signs Collins. He gets a huge opening announcement on day 1 of the season, and, as a 7 foot center, takes the opening jump ball. The crowd goes wild.
And that's all you need. Ideally, Collins would hang around long enough to appear in games and make that opening ceremony a little more than pomp and circumstance, but if nothing else, take the first few seconds of the season and the attention that comes with it to lavish positive attention on Collins.
Why? Let me defer to bisexual Tennis Hall of Famer, Martina Navratilova, who came in 1981 (emphasis mine):
Collins has led the way to freedom. Yes, freedom -- because that closet is completely and utterly suffocating. It's only when you come out that you can breathe properly. It's only when you come out that you can be exactly who you are. Collins' action will save lives. This is no exaggeration: Fully one third of suicides among teenagers occur because of their sexuality. Collins will truly affect lives, too. Millions of kids will see that it is OK to be gay. No need for shame, no need for embarrassment, no need for hiding.