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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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In Sports

NBA veteran center Jason Collins, right, became the first openly gay male athlete in America's big four pro sports. (PHOTO: mariselise/Wikicommons)

Jason Collins comes out with the support of Milwaukee Bucks players


Monday afternoon was a quiet one at the Cousins Center. There were no whistles, no squeaks of rubber on hardwood, no clanging of basketballs off a ball rack on the way to the showers or treatment.

The 2012-13 season was officially over for the Milwaukee Bucks, ended Sunday afternoon by the Miami Heat in the first round of the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs. Monday marked the beginning of the offseason, with players heading in for final physicals and exit interviews with members of the player personnel department.

Several members of the media camped out near the elliptical machines, sitting on chairs and on the floor, talking, half-watching a muted ESPN broadcast between interviews.

The sports world, especially the part of it which the NBA operates in, made a giant revolution at about 11 a.m. in that quiet. There was no shaking of the earth, or clarion calls in the distance. Instead, word exploded via social media and then on television with the news that 12-year NBA veteran Jason Collins had come out to Sports Illustrated.

Collins, who spent parts of this past season with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, became the first active, male athlete in one of America's "big four" sports leagues (Major League Baseball, National Football League and National Hockey League) to do so.

The announcement was historic, and Collins' basketball colleagues that filtered in and out of the Cousins Center expressed nothing but support for a player who hopes to continue his NBA career in 2013-14.

"I'm proud of him. I'm proud of him," J.J. Redick said. "I know it's not an easy thing to do, obviously. He obviously showed a lot of courage to come out in the sporting world. In this environment it's a very difficult thing. So, props to him. It doesn't change in any way how I view him or feel about him. If anything it's a really good thing for our culture."

Added veteran Mike Dunleavy: "I thought it was great for the LGBT community. Having known Jason in passing, playing against him and stuff like that, I just don't think of guys in terms of sexual preference or who they like, who they date. So, it's something to me that I don't' want to say is not a big deal because people are making a big deal out of it, but if that's what makes him more happy, more comfortable, good for him. Hopefully it encourages other people, if they want to do that, to come out and say it. Hopefully it's a step in the right direction for professional sports and our society."

The NBA has long been a forerunner in American professional male athletics in promoting inclusion within its league.

OnMilwaukee.com spoke with NBA commissioner David Stern about inclusion in male pro sports as a whole when the Milwaukee Wave hired Sue Black to be the first openly gay female chief executive in a male pro sports league.

"As a league – and I do mean the WNBA and the NBA – we consider ourselves to be progressive and inclusive," Stern said. "And that means that all are welcome – if they've got game. And if their game is on the court, that's one thing. And if their game is in the front office, that's another. But if you've got the right game, come one, come all. It gives us an advantage in recruiting."

Golden State Warriors President and CEO Rick Welts also spoke with OnMilwaukee.com about Black's hiring, as he was the first chief executive in one of the "big four" sports leagues to come out. He said while his decision to disclose his sexuality was an important move forward for himself, the NBA and male pro sports in general – the biggest leap would come when an active player chose to do the same.

"I think by definition you're talking about 20-somethings, so they're much younger in their life experience," Welts said. "They have a very short period of time to earn a living at the one thing they've been preparing to earn a living at their entire lives. I think both in how you evolve as a person and the reality and concern about potentially jeopardizing your livelihood … and I think, the culture of the male team sport is such that … I think there are more …. I think it's going to be more courageous when a player actually takes that step. It's important that administrators do, and significant, but I would not place that at the same level of an active player who would do the same thing."

Mbah a Moute did wonder if this announcement would affect Collins' own free agency, however.

"That's going to be interesting, too, if no one brings him in," Mbah a Moute asked. "It might be a positive. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out for him. If a team chooses him that's something you're going to have to deal with, not just for the negative point of view, but just to deal with it – the attention. It's the first time a player comes out, an active player, and says that he's gay, so you're going to have a lot of attention. You're going to have people always watching that. You'll have that going to linger in your locker room so do you want that or not? It's going to be interesting to see. "

He then said if an organization decided Collins was a good fit for that team, it would be no issue in the locker room.

"Gay people are part of this society – we live with them, they're our friends, our co-workers and now they are our teammate," Mbah a Moute said. "It was going to happen some day or another. It just happened to be (Monday)."

It was a sentiment echoed by Henson, Redick and Dunleavy.

"I don't think so," Dunleavy said. "I mean, golly, the good guys outweigh any of the guys that would have issues or be immature or question it. I just really can't see, even in the worst of locker rooms, it being an issue. Nowadays, in this society, in 2013, people are aware and I'd be shocked if it presented any type of issue."

Before Collins came out on Monday, and in speaking about the relative shoulder shrug such news as Black's hiring and the disclosure of many other gay athletes in other sports or countries often receive, Welts said he wasn't surprised by that mindset – even in pro sports.

"Our society has moved dramatically on this issue," he said. "I think the reason, in many ways, is the fact that there are more and more people who have a personal experience with or a personal connection with who have come out or made their sexual preference public. To me you're only really scared of things you don't understand and I think a lot of people as they realize who in their lives is in that situation become a lot less, I should just say a lot more comfortable with the fat that it's no different than the color of your skin or how you worship or your national origin in terms of the characteristics that define a person."


Talkbacks

fetlarpo | May 1, 2013 at 9:55 a.m. (report)

If no team picks this guy up for being old and lacking skills. I think the Bucks should give him a one year minimum. The Bucks have a small fan base. You know you have a problem when three times as many Milwaukeans would rather watch an NFL draft than a Bucks play off game. Maybe Williams can sell tickets and widen the fan base.

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TheyThink | April 30, 2013 at 4:42 p.m. (report)

Why is telling the world whom you prefer to sleep with considered "brave?" Those who volunteer to put themselves in harm's way (e.g. soldier, law enforcement) are brave. Who Jason chooses to spend his time with is of absolutely no concern of mine, nor should it be.

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wiscoleeds | April 30, 2013 at 2:55 p.m. (report)

Not really "brave" coming "out" when you're career is over. How does that encourage an active younger player to come out? It sends the message..."wait until your career is over before you go public".

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Photodavie | April 30, 2013 at 2:49 p.m. (report)

I commend Jason for being brave and trying to be a pioneer of sorts here. However, nothing will change unless an MVP caliber player comes forward. If a player like Lebron James came out of the closet? That would make a HUGE statement and be a HUGE step forward for the gay community. But a player that no one knew of before this announcement? on the verge of retirement (he has not been signed to a contract for next year yet)? Not really the statement one would want.

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