ST. LOUIS — The Cincinnati Reds second baseman who is known for speaking his mind sat with his back to the clubhouse TV. While Brandon Phillips played cards with teammates, two men on the screen talked about Jason Collins. The topic, printed below the talking heads, read: “Thoughts on Collins Coming Out.”
“More power to him,” Brandon Phillips said after he turned his chair away from the table. “I don’t judge anybody for anything. I’m happy for him for coming out and wanting to live his life like that. I wish him all the best. I have no problem with anything like that. That doesn’t bother me. Hopefully, he gets a job and gets to keep on playing in his career.”
The news that NBA veteran Jason Collins is gay — announced in an essay he penned for Sports Illustrated that featured a gripping first line of “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” — rippled through the country Monday. Collins, a free agent with hopes of playing next season, now joins a small community of active professional athletes who have come out publicly.
“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport,” Collins wrote. “But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”
That conversation includes a question: Will this encourage other gay professional athletes to follow in Collins’ footsteps? Yes, there are gay players in professional sports, whether it be the National Basketball Association, the National Football League or, as Phillips confirmed without a moment of hesitation, Major League Baseball.
“Hell yeah,” he said. “Hell yeah. To tell you the truth, man, I feel like there might be one on every team. You never know.”
There’s a thought that Collins coming out might help blow apart the cone of silence, that his announcement can make him a pioneer for those who want to play their sport at its highest level without feeling they need to hide who they are in order to do so.
“It just depends on the person,” Phillips said. “Some people have enough guts to come out and say it. Some people just want to live in the shadows and wait until their career is over … People are going to do what they want to do. He wanted to do it, and all the power to him. How they treat him, and how everything is going to go, it might encourage other people to come out.”
It’s too early to determine how Collins will be treated, but the discussion he wanted to create has started. It’s taking place across the country, and it’s present in MLB clubhouses.
“If somebody came out and said he was gay, we would still respect him as a player and as a man,” Phillips said. “I don’t care about that stuff. It doesn’t bother me. As long as he goes out there and does his job, that’s the only thing I really care about, man.”
So, a player — gay or straight — should be judged only on his ability to do his job?
Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
You can follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred) and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org