Last summer, after a dozen seasons playing in the NBA Jason Collins came out as gay. It was certainly a milestone step and Collins was widely heralded as the first active athlete in a major professional sport to come out as gay.
Except he wasn’t an active player — Collins was a free agent last summer and as of now has yet to even land a 10-day contract with a team. Part of that is tied to the fact that he is an aging NBA veteran with a limited skill set — he is still good at defending in the post but in a league where the teams are going small and bigs have midrange games. His being gay would have been a discussion topic for the handful of teams that should have considered him, it likely not have helped his cause in some organizations. Some teams sadly may not have considered him because he came out, even though they would have come up with other excuses (somehow the 12-year veteran considered a pro’s pro at every stop would suddenly be a locker room distraction). That said Collins was a guy near the end of his career before he came out.
Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive lineman came out as gay Sunday prior to the NFL draft, is different all together — he is just embarking on his NFL career.
Collins tweeted he spoke with Sam before Sam made his announcement.
Collins heard a lot of things about himself after he came out, most of it good but of course there was the expected backlash from people trying to stem the tide of history. Collins was the right guy — maybe the only guy — for Sam to really talk to about what he was about to experience. (For my money, Joe Posnanski nailed what is happening. I’ll add while a handful of players seemed opposed to a gay man in the locker room the main reaction I heard from players was “if a gay player is good enough and can help this team then get him a jersey.”)
Sam is hearing a lot of talk about his draft status (although that is a pre-draft game anyway) and Collins was simply lending an ear and offering a little advice. It’s also completely in character with who Collins is as a person — a pro’s pro who would mentor younger NBA players on the fine points of the game now can help mentor a guy breaking far larger, more important ground.