Now that Jason Collins is out as the first active male athlete in major sports to declare that he is gay, we'll have to watch if the other shoe falls out of the professional sports closet.
That would be the professional basketball general manager who signs Collins to a new contract. He is a free agent, available to all 30 NBA teams. Let's see if the progressive-minded league's actions match its laudable words of support.
It is that phone call from a GM that will really tell us how the NBA feels about the impact of a gay athlete on a team and in the locker room.
There would be no more emphatic statement than to see Collins, a rugged, team-first, 12-year journeyman, signed to a new deal. Collins, 34, is not a gifted athlete by NBA standards or a prolific scorer or rebounder. So, if he is signed it would be because a team believes his presence as a role player and role model will contribute to its success and chemistry in the locker room.
If Collins is not signed, then nothing much would have changed in this test case for how big time sports responds to a remarkable fast-moving gay rights revolution. We still won't know how a major professional men's sports team (and the fans) would react to an openly gay player on the roster. In May 2011, Rick Welts, president of the NBA's Phoenix Suns, became pro sports first openly gay senior executive. He abruptly resigned four months later for personal reasons.
Collins comes out at a time when the country is evolving and the Supreme Court is deciding whether to change the definition of marriage. I've been involved in many spirited and philosophical discussions about the elements of biology, bigotry and religiosity that are stirred up by the question of what defines marriage. I've was reared knowing only the biblical definition as a man and a woman. But I have supported civil unions and the health and estate benefits that should come with such a partnership.
Collins coming out won't necessarily influence the dialogue about marriage. It does reaffirm that whatever our sexual preferences, every individual should be treated with respect and dignity. Collins also provides us with a new reference as to what constitutes gay. He's 7 feet tall and 255 pounds, brawny, bright and black, and comes from a stable two-parent suburban home.
Collins would be an eloquent and appealing spokesman for any group he represents.
"I go against the stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked," Collins said in his first-person Sports Illustrated essay. "That guy is gay? But I've always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn't make you soft? Who knows? That's something for a psychologist to unravel.''
We do know that society has a certain fascination for gays and lesbians who don't fit the stereotypical "effeminate" or "butch" image. That Collins likely could dismantle most men who'd want to contest his masculinity is a delightful irony.
His openness about his sexuality, however, is no more courageous than that of other professional athletes, particularly women, who have come out over the years to much more muted responses. Tennis stars Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova came out many years ago. A few weeks ago, Baylor's Brittney Griner — the most dominant women's basketball player of her generation and the No. 1 player selected in the recent WNBA draft — reaffirmed publicly that she is gay. The public reaction? … Zzzzzzz.
Society's reaction to female athletes coming out as gay compared to their male counterparts is another topic for a psychologist to unravel. Collins is well positioned to reap profits from lucrative book and movie deals, and speaking engagements. Billie Jean King was not so fortunate, losing a reported $2 million in endorsements after she was outed three decades ago.
Sports are supposed to be a meritocracy, regardless of race and religious affiliation. Gender equity and sexual preference are a work in progress. Maybe one day Collins' No. 98 jersey will become as iconic as baseball Hall of Famer Jack Roosevelt Robinson's No. 42.
But today — on the merits — this bench warmer deserves a shot to get back on the court.
Stan Simpson is host of "The Stan Simpson Show'' (www.ctnow.com/stan and Saturdays, 6:30 a.m., on FOX CT).