One of 2013’s most interesting moments in sports was the announcement by NBA journeyman Jason Collins that he was a homosexual.
The entire media exploded into fits of hysteria, with Collins becoming the first active male professional athlete in America to come out publicly. This was back in April 2013, with Sports Illustrated putting Collins on the cover and considering this a moment of profound importance: an NBA player, who averaged 3.6 points per game during his 12-year career, announcing he is gay in a country that long ago abandoned any great stigma against homosexuals (with EEOC laws protecting an individual’s sexual orientation).
But that didn’t stop the New York Times from speculating in October of last year that his coming out as gay was hindering his marketability to a NBA franchise looking for a seven-foot center with a lifetime average of 3.6 points a game:
“The question Collins has to ponder is why he has not been signed as a free agent. Is it because he is at best a marginal player with modest career statistics (3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds a game) nearing the end of his career, one who would cost more than a younger player based on the league’s collectively bargained pay scale? Or is there something more sinister at work related to the new role he would play?
“Collins did not dismiss the latter notion or address it.
“‘You don’t want to speculate – I don’t go there,’ he said while picking at a bowl of greens in a cafe in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, near where he lives.”
Here Jason, I’ll speculate for you: As a 35-year-old center with a history of spending most NBA games riding the bench, your marketability has all but evaporated. There’s nothing sinister at work in the decision by NBA franchises to refrain from signing to a contract when you averaged less than two rebounds a game in your final season.
That you’d play the “discrimination” card – or tease it – over not being signed to an NBA contract after coming out is a truly sinister move, for it paints a league that celebrated your decision to announce publicly that you’re gay as bigoted.
Roster space in any professional sport is scarce, and signing a guy with little value outside having a lifetime invitation to appear on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” doesn’t make economic (or competitive) sense.
That brings me to address former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and his Deadspin column attacking three of his formers coaches as “two cowards and a bigot.”
Here’s what Kluwe wrote:
“Hello. My name is Chris Kluwe, and for eight years I was the punter for the Minnesota Vikings. In May 2013, the Vikings released me from the team. At the time, quite a few people asked me if I thought it was because of my recent activism for same-sex marriage rights, and I was very careful in how I answered the question. My answer, verbatim, was always, ‘I honestly don’t know, because I’m not in those meetings with the coaches and administrative people.’
“This is a true answer. I honestly don’t know if my activism was the reason I got fired.
“However, I’m pretty confident it was.”
Kluwe has long been an outspoken individual supporting homosexual rights, and as a former professional athlete who became a pariah for being outspoken about my views, I have no problem any athlete asserting himself publicly.
But just as Collins speculated that his coming out as gay somehow made him an unattractive free agent prospect for an NBA team in search of 35-year-old center – who averaged less than two rebounds a game (in his final seasons) – somehow Chris Kluwe is now a hero to the same media that championed Collins bravery: all because he believes his activism for gay marriage cost him his job as an NFL punter.
Just not buying it.
The Vikings cut Kluwe in 2013, after drafting another punter in the fifth round of that year’s NFL Draft. Though he had a prolific career kicking for Minnesota, it was decided by the personnel managers and coaches of the Vikings to move in another special teams direction; as is the nature of the NFL, Kluwe was out and a younger punter was in.
Interestingly, Kluwe was quickly signed by the Oakland Raiders, a move that illustrated he still had some value as a punter in the NFL; but he would be cut in September, before the season started.
No other team signed him.
His contention that he was black-balled from the league lacks credulity when you consider how quickly he was picked up once he was cut from the Vikings; that he wasn’t able to make the Raiders roster is a testament to his punting services no longer being required by an NFL franchise.
Athletes at every level, not just the professional level, have seen their careers come to an end and walked away with dignity and respect, instead of believing some ulterior motive is behind their inability to be signed (or have their career prolonged from the high school to collegiate, or collegiate to professional level).
The only reason we heard Jason Collins’ name in 2013 is because he came out as being gay; that no NBA team signed him is because he offered no value as an NBA player in the 2013-2014 season.
The only reason we hear Chris Kluwe’s name in 2014 is because he decided to throw three of his coaches under the bus (with the Vikings organization launching an Orwellian investigation into his claims) and claim he was black-balled from the NFL for his crusade for gay marriage. The guy was a great punter for the bulk of his career, but the NFL does stand for “Not For Long.”
Both Collins and Kluwe made it to the top of their respective vocations professional ranks, and both – like all athletes one day must endure – saw those same abilities that got them there deteriorate just enough so another athlete could replace them.
There’s a life after pro sports, but for Collins and Kluwe, utilizing a friendly media to amplify their grievances and claim some form of discrimination is a way to prolong their marketability before they slip off to retirement.
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