Almost a year after becoming the first openly-gay NBA player, Jason Collins is set to become the first openly gay NBA player to actually play a game. The Brooklyn Nets signed Collins to a 10-day contract on Sunday, and he’s expected to be available to play later in the day when the Nets face the Clippers in Los Angeles. This makes Collins the first active openly-gay athlete in major professional sports history.
When Collins first came out in mid-2013, he became the first major professional athlete in the U.S. to identify publicly as gay. However, he was a free agent at the time, and so while it was still a momentous occasion, Collins hadn’t actually had any playing time as an openly-gay athlete. He made clear that he wanted to do so, yet no team offered to sign him.
On Sunday, though, the Nets’ attempt to sign another player — Glen “Big Baby” Davis — fell through, and so, as a backup plan, the team signed Collins instead. Collins played with the Nets between 2001 and 2008, before he came out, and his former teammate Jason Kidd (now the team’s coach) has been a vocal proponent of signing him again.
A 10-day contract is sort of like a trial run to help determine whether a player is a good match for a team. Players can be signed to up to two consecutive 10-day contracts; after that, the team has to decide whether to sign them for a full season or release them back into free agency.
Two weeks ago, college football star Michael Sam came out as gay, and if the NFL signs him — which analysts see as likely — there will be two openly-gay players in major professional American sports.
While some will point out Collins was only signed on a temporary basis, and that he wasn’t the Nets’ first choice, that doesn’t diminish the historic nature of what just happened: An NBA team signing an openly-gay athlete for the first time in U.S. history. And that is huge.