Press-Republican

May 7, 2013

Gay and in the NBA

By ROBIN CAUDELL Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — NBA veteran Jason Collin’s cyber coming out was a blindside screen that many, including Luke Cyphers, didn’t anticipate.

“There are rumors there are a lot of NFL players ready to come out at any moment,” said Cyphers, a SUNY Plattsburgh journalism professor and longtime-sports writer for ESPN The Magazine and the New York Daily News.

“Jason Collins was really bit of a surprise. It’s a pretty fascinating development.”

STRONG SUPPORT

It’s not every day that an active professional athlete proclaims: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And, I’m gay,” as Collin’s did in a recent exclusive Sports Illustrated article, “Why NBA Center Jason Collins is coming out now,” penned with Franz Lidz.

Since then, Collins has received many calls from well-wishers, including Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama.

There have also been contrasting reactions, including from Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. Its ideology focuses on abhorrence of homosexuality, and it has sent contingents to Plattsburgh in the past, once to protest openly gay Dan Stewart, who was mayor then.

The church mounted protests at NBA games following Collins’s announcement.

GAME CHANGER

Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran and, presently, a free agent, played for the New Jersey Nets (2001-2008), Memphis Grizzlies (2008), Minnesota Timberwolves (2008-2009), Atlanta Hawks (2009-2012) and Boston Celtics (2012-2013).

He joined the the Washington Wizards in February.

Some see Collins’s decision to go public as a game changer on the level of Jackie Robinson, who broke professional baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1946, with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Cyphers doesn’t see it quite that way.

“Partly,” he said, “because there’s no guarantee that Collins will even play next year because his contract is up.

“He’s a free agent, and he’s at the end of his career. Nonetheless, he’s technically an active player. If he does catch on with a team next year, it will be something we haven’t seen before in male team sports.”

CLOSETED EXISTENCE

In 2002, Cyphers wrote an ESPN article, “Free and Clear” (Oct. 30, 2002) with an NFL player who came out a couple of years after his career was over.

Esera Tuaolo, a defensive tackle, played for the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers. In 1989, he was awarded the Morris Trophy (for defense).

“He had just been struggling with his identity all through his career and was suicidal most of the time and drinking to excess and living this horribly closeted existence,” Cyphers said.

“A few years after his retirement, he decided to come out publicly because he and his partner had adopted kids and (he) was ready to make that move.”

‘PROGRESS’

Tuaolo’s autobiography, “Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL,” was published in 2006.

In a recent New York Times article, Collins names Tuaolo, Martina Navratilova, Brittney Griner, Robbie Rogers and Dave Kopay as those who blazed the way for him, as he is now doing for others.

“It’s really gratifying,” Cyphers said of Collins’s openness about being homosexual. “I’ve done a lot of reporting. You feel like it’s progress.

“You like to see progress.”

Email Robin Caudell:rcaudell@pressrepublican.com