WALTHAM — The Celtics were so locked in on preparing for their Game 5 matchup with the New York Knicks, the public revelation by Jason Collins that he is gay — and that the Celtics spent months with a gay player on the roster — were afterthoughts.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce matter-of-factly addressed Collins’s announcement, surprised, but speaking with nothing but respect and admiration. They join a large group of NBA players who have expressed support and admiration for Collins, a 12-year veteran who became the first active male athlete in one of the four major sports to become open about his homosexuality.
Collins, a workmanlike center known more for his brickwall screens and hard fouls than his dunks or jumpers, wants to continue his career, and so far it seems NBA teams would be open to that possibility, as long as he can contribute.
If the NBA’s reaction the past two days is any indication, the league is further along in its progression of acceptance than perhaps observers gave it credit for. Maybe the time was perfect for Collins to come out because while a sizeable portion of players likely don’t agree with his lifestyle, they are mature enough to respect that he has a right to that decision.
If Celtics players knew before the season that Collins was gay, would it have caused discomfort and controversy? Likely so, but those issues could have been solved with simple discussion. As we have seen, Collins is as articulate and expressive a professional athlete as you’ll see. His words and phrases in his Sports Illustrated account likely put several writers on alert because Collins has a career waiting after the NBA.
“There may be guys who feel uncomfortable,” Jason’s twin brother Jarron said to the Globe on Tuesday. “And I’ve heard the discussion about the shower situation. And I think it’s very simple and my brother is very open. If you want to have a discussion with my brother, he’s more than willing to have a discussion, to talk to anybody about anything with his teammates. And he knows whatever is said in the locker room stays in the locker room. He’s willing to be a man with whoever may have an issue. But I foresee it where guys are mature enough and I don’t believe it to be a big issue.”
Jarron, who is married with three children, played in the league for 10 years and is a scout with the Los Angeles Clippers. While he is fiercely supportive of his brother, Jarron understands there may be trepidation among teams and players who have remained silent because of the risk of backlash if they reveal their true feelings.
And perhaps Jason picked the appropriate time to go public because for many players, the 7-foot elephant in the room has finally been exposed. There is an openly gay player in the NBA and regardless of whether they agree with his presence, they have to accept it.
Pierce, who played against the Collins twins in high school in Southern California, fielded a call from Jason early Monday morning before Sports Illustrated distributed the article through social media.
“I had a chance to talk to Jason and the crazy thing about it is it’s something I had mentioned to Doc that it was going to happen, there was going to be a gay player in professional sports come out,” Pierce said. “It just so happens that he seems to be the first and I was one of his teammates.
“To each his own. I think it’s going to open the door to many more. There’s so many professional athletes, there’s so many human beings that live a dark life, that’s scared to expose it because of the exposure of sports and what people may think about them, but I think what he did was a great thing.”
What Collins’s admission can do is foster discussion about the topic of openly gay athletes and whether it’s possible for them to coexist with teammates without issue, with the freedom to lead their personal lives without interference.
The funny thing is, Jason Collins already accomplished that. He didn’t just become gay on Monday, he admitted publicly to being gay on Monday. This past season Collins was obviously pondering going public and yet played a full season with the Celtics and Wizards. And all of the teammates who have spoken publicly were stunned at his revelation.
But while Collins should be applauded for his bravery, the climate in which he made his admission has been improved by those before him. And those gay athletes who felt they could not be honest with themselves or the public because they risked losing marketing opportunities, contracts, and regard also have to be acknowledged.
Kudos to the Celtics for addressing the Collins issue Tuesday and hopefully this week marks the beginning stages of total acceptance. The key to reaching that apex is discussion and acknowledgment. We will all never agree and we don’t have to. We just have to respect and recognize each other.