Amaechi: Age limits Jason Collins
LONDON -- John Amaechi claims the issue of homophobia has not entirely been eradicated from the NBA. However, the now-retired player does not believe the failure of Jason Collins to latch onto a new team this season is due to his sexuality.
Collins -- who in April became the first publicly gay athlete in North America's four major team sports -- was not re-signed by the Washington Wizards and has not received any firm offers to continue a professional career that began with a seven-year stint with the then-New Jersey Nets before further stops in Memphis, Minnesota, Atlanta and Boston.
Inevitably, it has raised the question of whether teams -- and general managers -- have avoided Collins due to the potential off-court distractions that might surround his arrival.
However, at the age of 35, and with a dozen NBA campaigns behind him, there are plenty who merely sense Collins' time is up, with the Stanford graduate averaging a mere 0.7 points and 1.3 rebounds in his brief Wizards stint.
Amaechi -- who attracted some derogatory comments when he came out in 2007, 11 months after the end of his career -- is among those who feel that, for all Collins' personal attributes, his inactivity comes down to numbers.
"Jason is an accomplished player, but the idea that [being gay] is the only impediment to him getting a team in a league as competitive as the NBA, where every young 20-year-old who can jump out of the gym is willing to work until his fingers bleed to get that job, is an anathema to me," the Englishman told ESPN.com. "Jason's older. People tend to put their resources into people who have potential.
"What he brings to the table -- that ability, that locker room presence, that calming influence, adding some smarts to a team, as well as that physical ability on court -- it's not as respected as it should be."
Major League Soccer has its first openly gay player in United States international Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy. Recently, the popular British diver Tom Daley caused only a minor stir when he confirmed he was in a relationship with another man, followed swiftly by a certain indifference when retired German soccer star Thomas Hitzlsperger did likewise.
Yet Amaechi, now immersed in political activism on both sides of the Atlantic, says the overwhelmingly supportive response within the NBA to Collins does not mean there is no more work to do.
And the onetime Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz center suggests that a number of owners have not bought into that re-education process, even as other groups within the league are actively promoting equality.
"If you talk to the head office of the NBA, that's clearly the case," he said. "If you talk to the staff of the teams, then it's the case. It's also clearly the case with a number of the coaches who have made explicit statements, along with some of the owners, like [Dallas Mavericks'] Mark Cuban.
"But it would be a foolish person indeed to think that the types of people who own sports franchises have all evolved to the point where this isn't still an issue."
For now, he will give the benefit of the doubt that Collins has not been a victim of discrimination. Others, following in their wakes, might be able to provide more definitive proof of a shift in attitudes to sexual orientation.
"Two years ago, America was in a different place," Amaechi said. "It's moved on in the way that people look at the LGBT community and marriage equity, and things like that.
"So, who knows? But certainly if [Collins] was at the middle of his career, that very reasonable reason that he has not yet been picked up by a team would not be there."