There is just one small problem with NBA center Jason Collins becoming the first active professional sports team athlete to come out of the closet and admit he is gay.Collins needs a job.While NBA commissioner David Stern and the White House issued separate news releases praising Collins’ courage to admit he is gay and social media went bonkers with congratulatory statements, this great story is not quite all the way there.He needs to be playing for a team before this barrier is truly broken, and we can get on with our lives and simply rip the player for his lack of production rather than care about his lifestyle.Pro sports is all about ability and production, and if Jason Collins can play, who cares?If he is signed and plays with a team, then this door is finally open and others may follow suit without the fear that has existed for decades.What Collins did on Monday took a tremendous amount of courage, but he is no Jackie Robinson.Collins, 34, is just about at the end of his career and is currently an unrestricted free agent. He last played for the Washington Wizards, whose roster, given the state of that franchise, could be comprised of three-headed aliens and no one would notice.Even if he had not admitted he was gay the way he did in an article in Sports Illustrated on Monday, there is the issue that he simply may be done as a player.He averaged about one point and one rebound in 38 games between his time with the Hawks and Celtics. His averages over his 12-year career are 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds.There was a good chance he was going to remain unsigned simply because of production.And now there is a good chance he gets another shot because of his announcement.There was some brilliance to his timing.We are potentially talking about the first gay athlete to play in one of the four major professional leagues in North America, which carries with it a certain amount of prestige. Both he and the team will be the first and will be recognized globally.There may be some “haters” at first, much like there were with Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. But eventually people got over their own ignorance and misplaced fears and the world did not end.Society appears to be just about ready to belatedly accept a gay ball player, which will allow us to proceed to the next dumb fear we can’t navigate.“I don’t know if I ever thought this would happen because sports is such a macho thing; there was so much fear in coming out,” said former Dallas Stars center Mike Modano. “If he can play, then I don’t think any off-the-[court/field/ice] scenario matters.”The NBA is going to want Collins to make a roster, and don’t be surprised if the Dallas Mavericks give him a look. Few owners in sports have been as vocal in supporting equality as Mark Cuban.In an interview with TMZ earlier this month, Cuban said, “There will be somebody who comes out. It’ll be a great moment for sports. … I would be honored if he was on my team.”It is easy to envision the Mavs giving Collins a look simply to make a social statement. But this can’t be a Brittney Griner gimmick.Fortunately, the Mavs need centers. Yes, Dwight Howard is the better alternative, but Jason Collins can’t be any worse than Erick Dampier. At least he’s more interesting.“Jason and Jaron Collins have been pure class on and off the court since I met and worked with them at a camp over a decade ago,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “I applaud Jason’s announcement and view it as a further demonstration of the strength of his character.”From Collins’ standpoint, not only does he immediately become an icon in the gay community, but now he also has a chance to cash in.I don’t think Collins made this decision for financial reasons, but if he can make a few bucks while serving as a role model, good for him.I asked one NBA exec on Monday what he thought about Collins’ announcement, and it was met with a shrug. No big deal. He didn’t much care. He cared more about whether Jason Collins was any good.That is the ideal answer.Regardless of the praise and support Collins received after making his announcement, homophobia is still a part of the locker-room mentality. Being called gay or variations thereof are still punch lines.Probably much like a big-league locker room in 1947 when a few racial slurs were still OK.Jason Collins took an important step for a lot of people on Monday, but a crucial element is missing that he can’t do alone.A team needs to sign him for this announcement to make the type of impact it merits.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof