What does Jason Collins coming out mean for sports?

The male sports landscape is full of players who have come out as gay, but only after their active playing days were over. The thinking has always been that the locker room is not a place to be an openly gay person, and there has always been question about how fans would react to a gay player in the macho world of professional sports.

Strange how many female athletes have been able to come out as gay while they were still playing, but not so much for male athletes.

But today, we have such a player. His name is Jason Collins, which is not a name most sports fans would know. A former basketball player at Stanford University, Collins has had a 12-year career in the NBA. And in a Sports Illustrated article, he says he never wanted to be the first openly gay and active player in the four major sports in this country, but since he is, he’s happy to talk.

As the story develops, it will be interesting to see how many of Collins’ former teammates will talk about how they knew or didn’t know he was gay, or how that knowledge has helped or hurt Collins in his career. And it will be interesting to see how this may help or hurt Collins’ career moving forward. As a free agent, Collins is free to sign with any team. Will teams take a chance on an openly gay athlete, or will they have those quiet conversations in locked boardrooms about team chemistry and not wanting to offend a segment of the fan base? And Collins will surely want to be seen as a basketball player at his next job, not as a public¬†relations stunt.

It’s interesting that Collins’ announcement¬†came in the same month at the movie “42″ documenting the struggles of Jackie Robinson¬†as the first African-American player in major league baseball was released. It’s a huge stretch to say that Collins could be to gay athletes what Robinson was to African-Americans. African-Americans were not allowed to be in the major leagues in the 1940s. Gay players have been allowed to play sports — just not while being open about their sexuality.

But Collins might be a living symbol of the struggle of gays for acceptance throughout society, even as a non-marquee player in his sports. So chances are you had not heard of Jason Collins before today. Chances are you will hear a lot about him in the coming months and years.