As newly openly gay free-agent center Jason Collins seeks an NBA contract for next season, don’t expect him to land with the Golden State Warriors, despite the fact that the franchise would be an obvious fit: the team boasts an openly gay president, Rick Welts, and plays in that bastion of gay equality, the San Francisco Bay Area.
That’s because Warrior head coach, Mark Jackson, who happens to be a minister in his spare time, took the Collins courageous act as an opportunity to, well, preach a right-wing version of the gospel:
As a Christian man, I serve a God that gives you free will to be whomever you want to be. As a Christian man, I have beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong. That being said, I know Jason Collins. I know his family. I’m certainly praying for them at this time.
Contrast the condescension of these remarks with the outpouring of support Collins received from fellow athletes and coaches. His former Stanford coach, Mike Montgomery (who once coached the Warriors as well), put it this way:
Jason Collins is an exceptional person who put a great deal of thought into this decision. This took a lot of courage, and I support him, along with his family and his former teammates who have nothing but respect for him. He is a tremendous player and a smart, fierce competitor. Jason is a guy you want to have on your side.
Jackson’s words represent the garden variety homophobia often espoused by unthinking preachers who conflate the American antigay political movement with Biblical values, which are primarily about “tolerance and understanding,” as Collins put it. But coming from Jackson, it strains credulity.
In 2006, Jackson, who is married with four children, was the target of an unusual extortion threat. A female stripper with whom Jackson was having an extramarital affair took explicit photos of Jackson. After paying the stripper and an accomplice thousands of dollars to keep quiet, he eventually went to the FBI, which pursued criminal charges against the extortionists. (Jackson is one celebrity whose nude pics we would rather not see.)
Considered one of the all-time great point guards, Jackson eventually apologized for the episode, and was fortunate to be hired first as an ESPN basketball analyst and then as Warriors head coach. Jackson is credited with leading the team to the playoffs, where it is facing the Denver Nuggets. (The Nuggets’ forward Kenneth Faried, raised by his biological mother and her female partner, tweeted his support of Collins.)
To his credit Jackson also said that he would be happy to have Collins on his team if he’s “got game.” But the dozens of gay team sports athletes still playing in a dark, lonely place, deserve far better than that. The need assurance that they will be judged only for the the quality of their “game,” and not the prejudices of their fellow players and coaches.
The Warriors, who play in Oakland, are planning to build a basketball arena in San Francisco, a glass and steel cathedral of hoops in the shadows of the Bay Bridge next to the bay. Let’s hope that if he’s still around, Jackson finds a place his his heart, and on the floor, for gay ballplayers.