The Jason Collins conundrum

In case you have been vacationing in Outer Mongolia, let me be the first to inform you that NBA player Jason Collins has disclosed his sexual orientation — gay. I have no interest in the sexual orientation of Collins or anyone else, and I doubt you do either.

At the same time, it is easy to imagine that Collins has had a rough time of it in “the closet”. So if “coming out” helps him and/or similarly situated professional athletes, then great.

The disclosure may raise a conundrum next season, though. Collins has very little to offer on the basketball court these days. This season, at age 34, he held down the final roster spot on a poor basketball team — my Washington Wizards. For the season, he averaged 1 point and 1.5 rebounds per game. His shooting percentage was an awful .310.

Old players with numbers like that very seldom make an NBA team the following year. In the normal course of things, Collins’ professional career would almost certainly be over.

But the NBA, or one or more particular team, may want Collins to remain in the League as a testament to its tolerance. Thus, his “coming out” conceivably could prolong his career.

If so, the temptation may be to applaud the NBA. But favoring a player because he is gay is just as wrong as disfavoring him for that reason. And if Collins occupies a roster next year, it probably will be at the expense of another player (although unlike in the NFL and Major League Baseball, NBA teams have some flexibility in the number of players they carry — the maximum is 15, but I believe teams can have as few as 12).

Roster decisions are highly subjective, so if Collins makes a team next year, we won’t know for sure whether he did so on pure merit (I assume no owner or coach would admit favoring Collins due to his sexual orientation). But there will be plenty of speculation on the subject.

If Collins tries to play and doesn’t make a team next season, there will be little reason to suspect discrimination, given his performance this season. But that doesn’t mean that no one will infer it.


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