Jason Collins stepped onto the court Sunday as a Brooklyn Net and the first openly gay player to compete in any of America's major sports (hockey, baseball, basketball, football). It wasn't a spectacular performance by any stretch but his presence on the court will have consequences that reach beyond a 108-102 win over the L.A Lakers.
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson made his debut as the first black baseball player to ever play in a leading American sport in another groundbreaking move that has been opening doors for African Americans ever since in American Sports. It may have seemed like flash in the pan at the time but that move changed the cultural landscape of a country, a sport and indeed, a race of people. The same significance can be applied to Jason Collins' appearance on the court last Sunday in Brooklyn.
Hats must go off to the Nets and Jason Kidd. They have said it was solely a basketball move as they needed help on their defense with Collins' name inevitably coming up and you could argue that it was only a matter of time before Collins was snapped up by someone at this time of the season but it would have been very easy for the Nets to go another safer direction and let the onus of signing a gay player to another team in another city.
Instead they opted for Collins, just as the Brooklyn Dodgers opted for Jackie Robinson in 1947 when they could have towed most party lines and selected a white baseball player to play first base.
Only time will tell who is willing to select Michael Sam to help out their defensive line when the NFL Draft rolls around this May. He was projected as a 4th round pick and has the requisite skills to definitely make an NFL roster in the coming season. The question now is, what team steps to the fore and picks Michael Sam? While it has been extensively written about and played down and played up, for that matter, the bottom line is that selecting such a young player who has openly admitted to being gay will be a groundbreaking move for any NFL team.
Chris Kluwe, a former punter for the Minnesota Vikings, recently wrote of the homophobic attitude of coaches while he was a Vikings player, the details of his letter really highlight just how homophobic some still are within the coaching ranks of NFL teams. Kluwe has been a long time spokesperson for Gay Rights and was told incessantly to keep his trap shut for fear of bringing unnecessary and unwanted attention to the franchise he was employed by. As it turns out, Kluwe had his finger on the pulse of something that was just about to start making headlines within the world of sport. Standing up for gay people is something you just didn't do but how much longer will that attitude not only be tolerated but encouraged by men with college degrees and high paying salaries who are in charge of developing role models for today's youth.
Since then, the Vikings have been the target of gay rights activists and plenty of online hatred due to their stance on the matter (Although it must be said that owner, Zygi Wolfe, told Kluwe that he was proud of his fighting nature and gave the punter his blessing to speak out). Could the Vikings selecting Sam put all of this talk of homophobia to bed or would it be a terrible PR move in attempt to seal over the cracks of such an environment? That will be one of the talking points of the NFL Draft this May.
The truth is that, the announcements from Robbie Rogers, Jason Collins and Michael Sam have effectively changed the cultural landscape of sports in front of our very eyes.