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I give credit to Jason Collins for coming out and making it easier for current and future players to lead an openly gay life if they choose to do so. The fact that he only told his twin brother that he was gay last summer demonstrates what a wrenching personal decision this was.
But it is an enormously positive statement about our society and changing values that rather than put Jason Collins at risk, his “decision” increases his odds of remaining in the NBA, dramatically increases his earning power and opens up doors to career opportunities. Collins, a Stanford graduate with a degree in economics, will rightfully, be hailed as a hero on the talk show circuit and given a platform to showcase his capabilities, and discuss his choice to go public. I suggest you see the Jackie Robinson film “42″ for a comparison.
While Collins is described as an “active” player, that is merely a technicality as he will be a free agent after this season. The New York Times quoted an anonymous NBA general manager as suggesting that Collins had a 25% chance of being picked up by a team next year. Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com fame had it at more than 50%. Given the marketing approach and openminded nature of the NBA, I would place it as 100% that, barring injury, Collins will be playing at the veterans minimum for an NBA team next year. While this won’t be the birth of “Col-Linsanity,” it opens a new marketing opportunity for a savvy owner in a progressive market.
According to Mike Bako who heads Sports Marketing at D S Simon Productions and commentates on sports communications for Fox News, the announcement could expand opportunities for Collins beyond his NBA career. “In an instant, he transformed himself from someone only hardcore NBA fans knew, to a celebrity who is part of our cultural Zeitgeist,” says Bako. ” “A brand that sells integrity and intelligence, such as Cadillac, could build a campaign around him.”
Don’t misread this to suggest I don’t believe prejudice against gay people exists. One only has to look at the hateful and ignorant comments being posted online in reaction to the story. Jason Collins’ most significant contribution is to make it easier for future pro athletes and all Americans to live their lives more authentically and pave the way for even greater acceptance of different lifestyles and beliefs. Let’s not take away from this important contribution by overstating its significance or the courage behind the decision which was a carefully calculated choice guided by experts in communication and brand building.
Doug Simon on Twitter: @DSSimonDoug
D S Simon Productions on Twitter: @DSSimon