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How Does Jason Collins' Coming Out Statement Affect His Off-Court Opportunities?

Forbes, April 29, 2013

By Darren Heitner

John Amaechi was the first former NBA player to publicly announce his homosexuality. Today, Jason Collins became the first active NBA player to come out. When Amaechi made his announcement, NBA Commissioner David Stern said, “We have a very diverse league. The question at the NBA is always ‘Have you got game?’ That’s it, end of inquiry.” And today, Stern wrote, “Jason [Collins] has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.”

The NBA, the NBPA and all other journalists, broadcasters and public figures who have commented on Collins’ announcement in a respectful and thoughtful manner should be applauded. It will open the door to other professional athletes who have felt uncomfortable exposing their sexuality. An ancillary effect of Collins’ announcement is that it may change the dynamic between sponsors and athletes.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been vocal on the subject of sexuality and sponsorship. He once stated, ”From a marketing perspective, if you’re a player who happens to be gay and you want to be incredibly rich, then you should come out, because it would be the best thing that ever happened to you from a marketing and an endorsement perspective. … On the flip side, if you’re the idiot who condemns somebody because they’re gay, then you’re going to be ostracized, you’re going to be picketed and you’re going to ruin whatever marketing endorsements you have.”

Will Jason Collins become incredibly rich? Jim Andrews, Senior Vice President, Content Strategy at IEG believes that Collins and his representatives need to move carefully and will not want to be seen as someone exploiting this new opportunity to sign a plethora of new endorsement deals in what may be seen as him simply “cashing in” on being the first openly gay player. ”He has put himself in a position where lots of brands marketing to the LGBT community will be interested in him,” explained Andrews. ”If I’m a brand that is marketing to the LGBT community, then I would love to be the first company that signs him as an endorser and be able to get out there and say that as supporters of the community we are proud to announce a partnership with Jason Collins.”

Andrews admits that Collins’ endorsement potential will be further enhanced should he play next season — he’s a free agent — but even if that is not a possibility and his career is over, the step he took today has instantaneously made him a hero to the LGBT community. Observing David Stern’s comments, it is clear the league was ready for the watershed moment. But what about Collins’ main sponsor, Nike?

“Jason [Collins] is a Nike athlete. We are a company committed to diversity and inclusion,” was the statement issued by Nike earlier today. ”I found the statement issued by Nike this morning to be a little befuddling,” said Andrews. ”It was very short, very corporate, not congratulatory and simply an acknowledgment that Collins is sponsored by Nike and that they are a company that supports diversity and inclusion. It was surprising. I thought they would have had a message that was somewhat more congratulatory; that it was a big moment for Jason and sports. They made a very noncommittal statement, and I am not sure why.” Nike did later update its statement to say, “We admire Jason’s courage and are proud that he is a Nike athlete. Nike believes in a level playing field where an athlete’s sexual orientation is not a consideration.”

It was something that was going to happen sooner or later – an active professional athlete in a major sport coming out of the closet. There will be more to come. When and how many is still a mystery, but this is the first of what will eventually be something that the general public should get used to happening, diminishing its “news” value as more athletes announce that they are homosexuals. For now, Collins will have companies calling him for partnership opportunities. Maybe he will not become incredibly rich, as Cuban had suggested, but then again just releasing the secret to the world likely made Collins rich with happiness.