NBA players' contracts require them to make a certain number of community appearances on behalf of their teams. They’ll pay visits to hospitals or schools and show up at charity functions or galas. Outside of what they do for their teams, most players will get hit up by nonprofits or organizations who want them to lend their faces, names and free time to the cause. Most of the requests are well-intentioned, but players generally don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. Nobody will force them to say yes. And if they say no, they still have a laundry list of good works performed on behalf of team and league they can cite.
That’s why the Denver Nuggets’ You Can Play spot featuring Kenneth Faried, Randy Foye and Quincy Miller is meaningful. You Can Play’s mission is to promote an inclusive environment on playing fields and in the locker rooms for gay athletes. You Can Play has forged formal partnerships with NHL, MLS and NCAA teams. A number of pro athletes such as Klay Thompson have participated in YCP videos, but the Nuggets become the first NBA team to have multiple players featured in support of the project.
As agendas go, YCP’s is radically moderate. It wants a world where gay athletes can suit up and play without fear of harassment, physical harm or having their talents passed over because of who they are.
That last item is a big one. Being on the receiving end of an epithet is an indignity, but what really terrifies a competitive gay athlete is not just the threat of physical or verbal abuse, but the prospect of never getting a rightful opportunity to perform and succeed. This discussion isn’t about being nice; it’s about being fair.
Thanks to You Can Play and many others, great progress is being made at the collegiate and high school level, but it’s been a tough season in the NBA. Jason Collins moved the conversation forward when he came out last April. Around the NBA, players have reported that his announcement inspired the most honest conversations to date about homosexuality in basketball. But the aspiration was for something much larger: bringing hypotheticals to real life.
By now, many of us wanted to be talking about how integrating a gay ballplayer into an NBA locker room was made easier, how morale was compromised at first because change is by its very nature disruptive, how that discomfort ultimately receded thanks to strong leadership and an appeal to our better selves. With Collins not on an active NBA roster, we’re not talking about those things. We can debate what role his identity as a gay man plays in that reality, but NBA executives and agents have stated that it’s a factor larger than zero.
That means that there’s work to do -- and the Nuggets, Faried, Foye and Miller are doing it. In the absence of an out gay player in uniform, the onus returns to individual teams and players to lead on the issue. Nothing in the body of the NBA charter or these Nuggets players’ contracts stipulated that they needed to, but they did.