There has been much anticipation in the press that an active major sport male player would finally come out of the closet. But I've noticed that there has been an automatic assumption that he would turn out to be a good player — you know, like, Tom Brady would announce that he had been living a lie, just going through the motions with Michelle Monahan and Giselle Bundchen.
But, what, I wondered, if the gay comer-outer turned out to be lousy? That's not exactly unprecedented. For example, when I was young, I was a big fan of the L.A. Dodgers during their pennant years of 1977-78. They had lots of fine ballplayers — Sutton, Garvey, Cey, Lopes, Russell, Reggie Smith, Dusty Baker, and so forth — and one terrible player, Glenn Burke. Well, eventually, Burke was traded to Oakland and then they cut him and then he came out of the closet and then died of AIDS.
Ever since, you read about how he was a victim of prejudice, that that's what halted his baseball career. No, what hurt Burke's career was that he was no good. He was outfielder/ first basemen who, at his peak in age 25 in 94 games hit .233 with 1 homer and 16 rbis. My recollection of Burke from listening to a lot of Dodger games on the radio was: "rally killer."
So, today, NBA player Jason Collins announced he was gay. He is a seven-footer who, along with his 6'11" twin brother Jarron Collins have been well-publicized since the 1990s, first at Harvard-Westlake, then four years at Stanford, where he finally developed into an effective Division I player as a senior, then as a #18 pick in the first round. (I've often written about the Collins twins since I'm interested in twins for what they can teach us about human biodiversity. As I pointed out in Taki's three years ago, the Collins twins, like the NBA Lopez twins, are publicly agnostic on whether they are identical or fraternal twins.)
As befits their middle class backgrounds and zillion dollar educations, the Collins twins are articulate. For example, when retired NBA player John Amaechi came out of the closet in 2007, amid much celebration of his bravery, I quoted Jarron pointing out:
"[Teammate Jarron] Collins' memory, though, is that Amaechi wasn't just indifferent toward his job, but irritated by it and the pro sports atmosphere. "He just wasn't interested in basketball, period," Collins said. "I never knew someone who just disliked the game. I would say that everyone has different motivations to play the game of basketball. John was very clear that money was his. But it really was like, he didn't like the game. It's kind of hard if you hate it."
Amaechi was an example of how much some gay men don't like sports, even if they are being paid millions to play a sport. Amaechi was a 6'10" and 270 pound project who never developed because he despised practicing basketball as something that kept him away from visiting art galleries and his other interests, none of which had anything to do with sports.
I pointed out during the brief Amaechi whoop-tee-doo that the the most likely gay male contact sport players would be guys who were given the rare genetic gifts to play whether or not they were obsessed with competitive sports, such as very tall basketball players. And what do you know? The next example turns out to be another NBA big man.
My impression is that Jason Collins isn't a complete fraud like Amaechi was, that Jason Collins is a conscientious professional athlete. But he's still terrible at this stage in his career.
Jason's coming out of the closet is being given a big whoop-tee-do on the grounds that he is the first active male major team sport player to do so. But, "active" sounds like a stretch. In his just concluded season with two teams at age 34, he played only 384 minutes out of a possible 3936 or more. Basketball-Reference has a handy "Per 36 minutes" section that projects out how well he would have done if he'd been allowed to play full time (and had not gotten tired or fouled out). Collins 2012-13 per 36 minute stats are some of the worst I've ever seen. If he'd played 36 minutes per game, the seven-footer would have averaged 3.8 points per game, 5.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.9 blocks, and 8.0 personal fouls.
Perhaps, Jason Collins is trying to pressure the NBA into giving him one more year just to prove they aren't homophobic?
But, Jason, even before he got old, has never been very good (and 6'-11" Jarron, who has been out of the league for two years, was worse). A few weeks ago, commenter jody wrote:
when i was younger i didn't get this at first, and chuckled along when they clowned players like bradley. then after a while, i started to get it, and noticed they never ridiculed the goofy, clumsy, or just plain bad black players with nearly as much verve or ardor. and there are a lot of them. they screw up all the time too or have terrible careers. and the sports guys simply ignore it most of the time.
i remember during some of [shawn] bradley's later seasons, there were these twins in the league, jason collins and jarron collins, who were pure crap. yet they were 25 minute a game starters at center, and not one time ever were they clowned by ESPN or any sports writers. these two guys turned in a few seasons where they were playing 30 minutes a game and scoring 4 points or something ridiculous, the way erick dampier was for a couple years.
And that was back in their 20s when Jason and Jarron were young. Jason is old and extremely bad now, but being mediocre at his brief peak, then decrepit for years, and gay hasn't kept him from collecting $32,816,349 in salary over his career.
A sidelight is that this raises the question of concordance in terms of sexual identity among identical twins. (We don't know that the Collins' are identical, but that's the way to guess.) Jason writes in Sports Illustrated:
The first relative I came out to was my aunt Teri, a superior court judge in San Francisco. Her reaction surprised me. "I've known you were gay for years," she said....
It was around this time that I began noticing subtle differences between Jarron and me. Our twinness was no longer synchronized. I couldn't identify with his attraction to girls. ...
I didn't come out to my brother until last summer. His reaction to my breakfast revelation was radically different from Aunt Teri's. He was downright astounded. He never suspected. So much for twin telepathy.
Northwestern psychologist J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern has done two studies of sexual orientation concordance among male identical twins. The first came up with an estimate of 50%, but Bailey became uncomfortable with the possibility that his figure was biased from how he'd recruited participants. So, he did another one using the national twin registry in Australia, and came up with, I believe, a figure of only around 22%. That is well above the single digit percentage you'd find if both nature and nurture among identical twins raised together had no effect and sexual orientation was completely random, but it's still strikingly low, meaning the causes of male homosexuality remain scientifically murky.