Steinberg: Collins breaks ground

The signing of NBA player Jason Collins has the possibility of pushing the taboo against gay players in sports further into the trash can of past barriers.

The Brooklyn Nets signed the openly gay player to a 10-day contract. A 10-day contract doesn't ensure that a player will be on the roster for the remainder of the season, it is more like a "look and evaluate" signing. If the Nets decide to keep Collins as a regular player on the roster, he would be the first openly gay player in professional sports. Defensive end Michael Sam still has to be taken in the NFL Draft or signed as a free agent and make a roster. His performance at this week's NFL Combine did not enhance his status.

The potential for two openly gay players to make rosters in two of the four major sports is another step forward in the move toward tolerance and decency in pro sports.

Players who are on rosters and afraid to be open about their sexuality will be scrutinizing the situation closely. If closeted players feel these first two players are accepted, it will certainly embolden them to add to the number of gay players in the future. If more players "came out' it would dampen the novelty that has news organizations poised to ask teammates and officials how they feel about playing with a gay teammate or coaching such a player. This would undercut the concept of "distraction" as a rationale for reticence to sign gay players.

Collins has the ability to crush stereotypes, as does Sam.

Collins plays a sport in which fans can relate more up close and personal to players as opposed to football. Football players are covered from head to toe with uniforms and equipment and it is often hard to see their facial features. This is one reason why, beyond a small group of quarterbacks and Clay Matthews, few NFL players appear in national ads.

Basketball players are closer to the seats with their bodies and faces clearly visible. The prevalence of shoe contracts gives them more opportunities. As Phil Knight told me years ago as I complained to him about the lack of football shoe deals, "If we sell thousands of pairs of cleated shoes and millions of pairs of basketball shoes, where would you put the majority of advertising money?"¿

Collins needs to perform dramatically to turn his 10-day contract into a roster spot. If he does, history will be made.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports.

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