NBA centre Jason Collins made history yesterday by coming out as the first openly gay player at a top-level US professional team.
He declared his sexuality in an article for Sports Illustrated, saying “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
The sports world united in their support for the player, with many NBA stars and athletes from other sports expressing their support on Twitter. President Obama reportedly called Collins to offer his support and applaud his Collins’ courage.
Nike also expressed their support for his decision: “Jason is a Nike athlete,” its statement said. “We are a company committed to diversity and inclusion.”
Even Bill Clinton got involved, saying in a statement that this was “an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community”.
The online reaction
We took a quick look at the reaction online to see if the world of social media was as supportive as those in the public eye.
As the news broke, most conversation focused on the details of the story, along with Obama’s support.
We found that the majority of conversation was positive about Collins coming out. Disregarding neutral chat – those just posting links to news stories or the announcement – we found that of the emotive conversation, 80% was positive and just 20% was negative.
Those that were positive tended to congratulate him for his bravery in coming out, and expressed their respect for him.
Some negative conversation was found directed at ESPN, criticising them for a lack of coverage and for one of their analysts, Chris Broussard, stating that he thought it was not possible to “live an openly homosexual lifestyle” and be a Christian (Collins said in the article that he took “the teachings of Jesus seriously”).
There was also some dissent over American quarterback Tim Tebow having been criticised for being openly religious, whilst Collins was praised for being open about his sexuality.
And, of course (this is the internet, after all), there were some homophobic comments and jokes, but these tended to be in the minority.
Some others felt that, whilst Collins’ had showed courage in coming out, there was too much media hype surrounding the announcement, or felt that he was just making the announcement for attention.
Obama and Clinton dominate conversation
There was some dismay at Obama calling the player and Clinton’s support, with some feeling that Collins didn’t warrant such ‘special’ treatment or that the President should be focusing on other things.
It seems that the support from Bill Clinton and President Obama did dominate conversation – both positive and negative.
He was also the most mentioned tweeter, with his tweet “I’m proud to call Jason Collins a friend’ linking to his statement retweeted and referred to thousands of times.
The hashtag #equality was used most, due to the @whitehouse tweet including it.
#benghazi also featured in a number of tweets due to jokes about Obama calling Collins, but not ‘picking up the phone during #benghazi’.
Will Collins’ statement lead to more openness about homosexuality in professional US sports? Only time will tell, but Collins has certainly taken a brave step, and it seems that he largely has the support of the public.