The signing of NBA player, Jason Collins, has the possibility of pushing the taboo against gay players in sports further into the trashcan 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 rest of the season. It is more like a "look and evaluate" signing.
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 weeks' NFL Combine did not enhance his status. But t he potential for two openly gay players to make rosters in two of the four major sports is another step forward in the move towards 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 has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.