NFL must create environment for others to follow Collins' lead; mail
In the wake of NBA player Jason Collins' decision to come out as gay in this week's Sports Illustrated, the obvious conclusion to draw is that it will start a trend of players to do the same.
It might be obvious, but it might be wrong.
Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe, an outspoken advocate of equal rights for gay and transgender people, told me Monday night there's a very big "if'' involved in the future declarations of gay athletes: They could be more likely to come out "if'' they don't think they'll lose their jobs in the process.
"It is a great day for Jason Collins, and it's a great day for all of us,'' Kluwe said from his home in Minnesota. "I'm not sure about how this will affect other players. I believe one factor that could affect some players is how they feel it will affect their employment.''
Recently, former Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said he thought several NFL players could be on the verge of coming out. Kluwe, as he says, doesn't know if this will spur any of those players on. But Kluwe makes a very good point: It's one thing to be a pioneer. It's another thing to be an unemployed pioneer. That's not to say a player who comes out will automatically be shown the door. But it will certainly be a factor if a gay player comes out on a team that is uncomfortable with the attention that declaration would draw to the team.
What's most encouraging about Collins' cover story is the positive attention it drew not just from outsiders like President Obama and former president Bill Clinton, but from players in all sports. There aren't many general managers on Twitter. Nor are there many owners. (And I didn't see any comment from very public Twitter guy Jim Irsay.) But the general managers, coaches and owners hold the key here. If they're serious about equality, they have to be serious about accepting players of all beliefs and sexual orientations on their teams. It just can't be a factor going forward. The Chris Cullivers and Mike Wallaces have to know that players are players, and what they do in their private time is what they do in their private time.
When I was young, a pup in the Cincinnati Enquirer sports department, I remember walking into work one afternoon to work the rim -- writing headlines, editing copy -- and an older man in the department shouted out, "Hey Pete! You hear about Billie Jean King? She's a dyke!" That was about 30 years ago. Times have changed for us all, thankfully, and they need to keep changing. In the last 30 years -- particularly the last five or 10 -- I think we've all discovered gay people are not big bad wolves. And we've also discovered, I hope, they're not out to convert teammates in locker rooms. Former U.S. National Team soccer player Robbie Rogers was adamant about that when he came out last year. I only hope Jason Collins' revelation leads to an encouraging environment where other gay athletes aren't afraid to follow his lead -- and front offices provide an atmosphere to let that happen.
The movie 42, about the trials of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball, should make us realize the world can become more tolerant. We're in the middle of that now with gay athletes. I just hope it doesn't take as long for sports to accept gay players as it did for the sports establishment to accept minority players.
"The environment will change,'' said Kluwe. "It just takes time. Look at young people today. The vast majority of young people just don't care about sexual orientation. They're growing up in a world where they all know someone who is gay. In time, it's just not going to matter. It took time for racism to die down. There's still some racism, obviously, but it's getting better in this country all the time. We'll get there with same-sex issues."
Now for your email:
QUARTERBACK COUNTRY. "Speaking of a factoid that may only interest me: Matt Ryan (Exton, Pa.), Matt Schaub (West Chester, Pa.), Ryan Nassib (West Chester, Pa.) and Pat Devlin (Downingtown, Pa.) are all from Chester County, Pa., and grew up within 10 miles of each other. That's a lot of NFL QB talent per capita.''
-- Mike, West Chester, Pa.
So the environment to development quarterbacks in Pennsylvania has shifted from west (Namath, Montana, Unitas, Marino) to east. Thanks for pointing it out, Mike.
WELL, THANK YOU. I LOVE ME TOO. "One of the reasons I like reading your columns is you point out some great illustrations to make your points. Tavon Austin making 404 of 405 practices at West Virginia and all 52 games? For a player his size? That's amazing. Thanks for showing us something important about Austin."
-- Jerry T., Chicago.
I'm blushing, Jerry. Thanks. When I met Austin Friday in St. Louis, his size, and the fact that he missed only one practice in four years, amazed me.
THE OL' DRAFT PICK TRADE CHART. "Do teams generally follow the famed draft pick trade chart values consistently from year to year? Or do they tweak the values from year to year based on the characteristics of a particular draft class -- more or fewer 'can't miss' guys at the top, more or less drop off in perceived quality between mid-range guys? I know that Washington's trade last year to get RGIII was a special situation that wouldn't necessarily apply this year, but does the same sort of thing happen on a smaller scale further down in the first few rounds?''
-- Bob Probasco, Dallas.
They still do. I saw the Rams do it Thursday night in the first round, and I'll be writing about it next Monday. Remember: The draft pick trade chart isn't good for every trade. If Robert Griffin III is the object of some team's affections, that team is going to pay more for a special player. It's always been that way.
I BELIEVE YOU'RE MISINFORMED. "Not a Cowboys fan, but I think the reason people are killing the Cowboys (and I happen to agree) is that they could have picked up Travis Frederick in the second (or even third) round and addressed another need in the first. In addition, I don't think they received enough from the 49ers.''
-- Bob, Pittsburgh.
It's possible Frederick could have been gotten by Dallas with the 47th or 74th pick (their second or third picks of the draft). But how do you know that? We just had a draft in which guards went seventh and 10th overall. If center is a major position of need (the Cowboys cried out for one), and Frederick is the top-rated center on your board (he was for Dallas and at least one other team I talked to), and he is a totally clean off-the-field candidate, then why on God's green earth is it a mortal sin to take him at 31? Silly argument, as far as I'm concerned. Now as far as the value for the trade -- you're right, according to the trade chart. Dallas got 820 points of value and surrendered 900. The Cowboys should have picked up a late pick in addition to what they got.
OF HAND-HANGING. "You mentioned at the end of your MMQB about the head-hanging from Geno Smith. I, too, was a bit put off by it. It's not just him, it's all these athletes who are projected to go at a certain spot in the draft, but fall. So what? These kids are going to be living the dream of playing professional football (even if just in mini-camps). What difference does it make now, with the rookie cap, where they get drafted as long as they get drafted?''
-- Eric Goolsby, Manhattan, Kans.
The perception of where players are going to get drafted -- and then they don't go there -- is what's most damaging of all. Players get the idea in their head that they're going high, and when they don't, they act like life is crashing down around them. If I were an agent, I'd bang into my clients' heads from the moment they signed: "Believe nothing. Believe absolutely nothing. You'll go when you go."
GOOD POINT ABOUT SKILL PLAYERS. "Peter, love the column and your draft coverage. One term that I think has been overused and needs to be retired is 'skill position/player.' Who's to say that Tavon Austin has more skill than Luke Joeckel or Ziggy Ansah? I don't know what the new term should be, but skill player is definitely a misnomer.''
-- Jeff Coughlin, Arlington, Va.
Yeah, it's just an old term signifying guys who touch the ball. It's probably outdated, particularly after seeing some of the moves pass rushers put out there, or seeing how acrobatic corners can be.