It’s only a 10-day contract but it’s a historic 10-day contract. The Brooklyn Nets have signed on Jason Collins, effectively making him the first openly gay athlete to play in any of North America’s four major professional sports leagues. Collins is expected to play Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers, reports Yahoo Sports. Collins made sports history when he came out of the closet in an April Sports Illustrated article but was a free agent and remained unsigned. “Because Collins never continued his career, the revelation was somewhat anticlimactic in terms of its possible social impact,” notes USA Today.
The Nets quickly took pains to emphasize Sunday that the signing of the 7-foot 35-year-old Collins was all about helping the team on the court.
"The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision. We needed to increase our depth inside, and with his experience and size, we felt he was the right choice for a 10-day contract," Nets general manager Billy King said in a statement. But the Nets also wasn’t shying away from the publicity, posting a picture of the contract signing on Twitter:
Collins has played with six different teams throughout his 12-year career in the NBA and has often said he never had a grand plan to be the first openly gay player. "I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, 'I'm different,’” said Collins, according to Reuters. "If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand."
Collins will continue to wear No. 98 in honor of the year in which Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered—a number he began wearing before coming out. But the jersey won’t be ready Sunday night so he’ll be wearing No. 46 against the Lakers, journalist Alex Raskin wrote on Twitter. Once Collins’ 10-day contract expires, the Nets could sign him up to another 10-day contract before having to decide whether to keep him for the whole season.