Jason Collins, the NBA player who announced on Monday that he is gay, may have changed American professional sports as we know it.
Never has there been an active American male professional athlete to announce that he is gay. It could be the announcement that gets many more to follow in the footsteps of the 34-year-old NBA veteran.
Many NBA players have come out in support of Collins. NBA commissioner David Stern also did so. Barack and Michelle Obama also showed their support of Collins via Twitter and phone calls.
But the telling sign of change isn’t the announcement alone. It is what happens next season for Collins.
First off he has to find his way back onto a NBA roster.
He played in 38 games for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards this season and averaged 10.1 minutes per contest. He played in 30 games in the strike-shortened NBA season two years ago, again averaging 10 minutes per game.
With Collins being a free agent and his playing time diminishing over the last two seasons, there is no guarantee he will even be on a roster.
Even without this announcement, he may not have been on a roster. With it, did the number of teams willing to sign him shrink or grow?
If Collins is not playing in the NBA next season, his announcement will mean absolutely nothing to developing change within professional sports. He will be just another player after his career was finished to make that announcement.
If he is signed by someone, then the wheels of change can start turning.
Collins will be going into a NBA locker room with everyone there knowing he is gay. He will face opponents and they will know he is gay.
The way players and coaches approach him and handle him will be a telling sign of the times.
He will go into NBA arenas and have to likely hear the fans in those buildings heckle him for bring gay. This will likely be similar to the visceral comments Jackie Robinson heard back when he broke into Major League Baseball in 1947.
Then there will be how Collins handles it all. It appears on the surface that Collins is the right ambassador for the job.
He is a respected NBA player who has been in the league for 12 years. He is educated. He is well-spoken.
Collins has taken the first step but he and progress could get shoved backwards if no one signs him for next season.