When Jason Collins made history last spring as the first openly gay athlete in one of North America's four major professional sports leagues, much of the instant reaction suggested that his status would serve as a distraction for any team that chose to employ him. For the most part, that hasn't proven to be the case. Although Collins has received a substantial amount of attention since signing with the Brooklyn Nets in late February, he hasn't exactly overwhelmed the locker room with a media frenzy. Collins does more interviews and has a more popular jersey than the usual late-season free-agent pickup, but he also seems to have settled into serving as yet another veteran presence on the bench and in the locker room.
In fact, it's becoming increasingly rare to hear anything that suggests his playing for the Nets is especially remarkable. Were those not-entirely-positive opinions simply being kept out of public discourse? According to Collins, that's not the case either, because he claims to have received gay insults from just one opponent so far this season. From Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News (via NetsDaily):
He was tested once during his first month with the Brooklyn Nets, although the NBA's first openly gay player understandably doesn't want to give attention to the "knucklehead" or his comments. [...]
"One player, one knucklehead from another team," Collins said in an interview with the Daily News. "He's a knucklehead. So I just let it go. Again, that goes back to controlling what you can control. That's how I conduct myself - just being professional." [...]
The Nets (35-31) certainly don't seem distracted. They're 10-3 since signing Collins, winners of 10 straight at the Barclays Center ahead of Friday's home game against the Celtics. [...]
"Not just for myself, but I think for everyone. This shows that "distraction" is B.S. That it's about the team, it's about the sport," said Collins, who signed for the rest of the season last week. "I hope this shows all players that you can still have your life off the court and not have to hide anything. And still have your life on the court or on the field or on the ice, I guess, in hockey. That's a credit to my teammates and the entire Nets organization - from ownership to coaching to teammates to everyone."
Given that NBA trash-talk can often toe the line of decency, I'd say it's good to hear that just one opponent has gone too far with Collins, even if that's one too many. That speaks highly not just of these athletes, but the way in which the entire league has created an environment in which Collins can thrive. The NBA knows this moment matters and is doing whatever it can to help him succeed.
Nevertheless, it's unfortunate that one player did insult Collins. Whether he deserves to be called-out in public is open for debate, but it's certainly Collins's prerogative not to do so. That choice is also in keeping with his approach to his opportunity with the Nets, which is to act as if he's any other player. Which makes sense, because he is.
It seems clear that some people will continue to consider Collins an interloper, but it appears that those opinions will become more marginalized as his presence becomes less notable. Pretty soon, we probably won't hear about any people confronting Collins about his sexual orientation, because it just won't be an issue.
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