When Jason Collins came out of the closet in Sports Illustrated last April, the reactions in NBA circles were proud and celebratory on the surface. From Tim Duncan to Kevin Durant, NBA players were supportive. However, as the season nears closer, Collins is still unsigned. It definitely makes you wonder if teams are hesitant to sign the veteran big man because of the media hoopla and potential locker room backlash that could ensue. Of course, I believe signing the first openly gay NBA player would be a huge positive step in any team’s public relations department, but it’s likely that several teams view it differently.
It’s important to note that Collins simply isn’t that good anymore. At 34, Collins is a 12 year NBA veteran with career averages of 3.6 PPG and 3.8 RPG. Those numbers are very underwhelming, but Collins’ true value comes as a defensive stopper against the elite centers of the NBA. From 2009-2012 in Atlanta, Collins was the “Dwight stopper”. Whenever Orlando came up on the schedule, you knew Collins would get the start–and frustrate Dwight Howard immensely. Although Collins has only gotten older, he hasn’t averaged more than 15 minutes per game since 2007-08 or more than 3.0 PPG since 2005-06; this is the same player he’s always been. You have to think someone would roll the dice on him, but as no more than a 12th man. I believe Collins should be signed, but it’s not necessarily a bigoted tragedy if he doesn’t.
Kerry Rhodes is a different story.* Rhodes is a veteran NFL safety, coming up with the New York Jets and playing his last few seasons in Arizona before being cut by the Cardinals. Even though Rhodes was rated by Pro Football Focus as the fourth (!) best safety in the NFL last season, we just wrapped up Week 2 and he’s unemployed. Why? Probably because he’s gay.
*- I know I’m not supposed to talk about the NFL, but this feels important. Go Bears.
Over the summer, Rhodes alleged ex-boyfriend released a handful of pictures of the two looking awfully couple-y (I gotta be honest though, cute couple). It seems that Rhodes’ ex was upset at the way things ended and wanted to get back at Kerry. Among other things, he claimed that plenty of Rhodes’ teammates knew about them and that the players’ wives loved him. This sounds like a great movie, until things get shitty. Rhodes denied all rumors about his sexuality, albeit respectfully. That was in April.
Now it’s mid-September and a hell of a lot of teams could use a Pro Bowl caliber safety. I’d love Rhodes on the Bears. Yet no one had even given the man a realistic look since the rumors broke about his personal life. It’s worth mentioning that Rhodes has developed a reputation as a bit of a diva, dating back to his Jets days. Regardless, former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, outspoken advocate of gay rights, was released by the team after last season and is still a free agent. Kluwe is a known distraction, and it’s understandable for a team to get fed up with him. But no one wanted to give the talented punter a chance this year? Something smells fishy.
Early this week, news broke that the New York Giants were taking a look at Kerry Rhodes, and it’s about fucking time. Rhodes was one of the elite safeties in football last year and, as far as I know, is completely healthy. The Giants are off to a very disappointing 0-2 start and need all the help they can get in their secondary. If the Giants are willing to step up and ignore what happens off the field (especially considering that it’s WELL WITHIN Kerry Rhodes’ rights to simply be a gay man), they could have a pretty damn good mid-season pickup on their hands. If the G-Men, and others, continue to pass on Rhodes, you have to wonder how homophobia could still be so rampant in the NFL.
And just because Jason Collins kinda sucks doesn’t mean that the NBA is doing any better than the NFL. It was a great thing for Collins to come out, but the fact is that he was well past his prime and many teams don’t need his help. Rhodes is at his physical peak, but until he or others acknowledges their sexuality, it’s hard to imagine real progress in the NFL. Still, things are always moving forward. You have to think that more NBA and NFL players will to continue to come out, and signing them will be unavoidable.
Note to professional sports teams: don’t be on the wrong side of history. Would you rather be Branch Rickey, or one of the assholes that spiked Jackie Robinson every game?