UPDATE: The photo was updated to show an image of Jason Collins in his No. 98 jersey. Despite fans being able to purchase the jersey this week, Collins’ official version wasn’t ready until Wednesday. This post was made prior to images being available of the official jersey.
We can argue all day whether being gay or a lesbian in pro American sports is news. And we can debate whether it should be celebrated or tempered based on your views about society. Jason Collins and Michael Sam pushed the needed discussion to the forefront this month, Collins being the first out gay man to play in the NBA. Sam is waiting to be drafted in the NFL to be the first of that league to be out.
Of course neither is the only, but due to locker room and societal pressures they may have to, ahem, carry the flag. That reality makes me agree with new NBA commissioner Adam Silver about the whole storyline:
“I have mixed feelings, because I’m enormously proud that the first openly gay player is playing in the NBA,” Silver told the New York Post on Sunday. “On the other hand, this is so long overdue that I don’t think this should necessarily be on the list of the greatest accomplishments of the NBA.”
Regardless of timing, having gay and lesbian athletes has proved to be profitable for the NBA, which also has a hand in supporting the WNBA. Six of the teams in the women’s league are operated by independent owners, including the Storm.
Phoenix C Brittney Griner announced she’s a lesbian prior to playing in the WNBA last summer. She became the face of an anti-bullying campaign in the city and by mid-season, she became the first out lesbian to have the top-selling WNBA jersey, according to the league. (Due to stereotypes, you’re probably saying whomever had the top-selling WNBA jersey in the past was a lesbian because, ugh, none suspected were publicly “out” so Griner is the first “out” lesbian in this case.)
Collins’ hadn’t even worn his No. 98 jersey after being signed to a 10-day contract by the Brooklyn Nets this week when his jersey struck the same gold mine. Normally short-term NBA players don’t even have jerseys printed for fans to purchase, yet Collins’ is already the NBA’s top-seller online and in person.
Collins wore No. 98 in the 2012-13 season for both the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, in tribute to Matthew Shepard, the gay teenager who was murdered in 1998. But Collins hadn’t made his “announcement” then, making it a ho-hum jersey of a journeyman player.
Griner and Collins’ bravery has created a unique, historical moment where both the NBA and WNBA’s top-selling jerseys are for an out lesbian and gay athlete. If there’s any celebration for their willingness to make a personal announcement in an effort to end homophobic attitudes and stereotypes, it probably should be that it is being received so well in a monetary fashion within the same timeframe by fans. Globally.
It’d be nice if, instead of pocketing the profits, Silver and WNBA president Laurel Richie pushed the organization to move some of the proceeds from the jersey sales to support LGBTQ youth or the HRC’s campaign that equality is an American value. But money speaks volumes and fans are doing a lot of talking in support of equality across the LGBTQ platform…all the way to the bank.