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Jason Collins could parlay his announcement into more post-NBA opportunities.
He's gone from being a no-name center to the center of attention, and experts say NBA free agent Jason Collins could parlay his decision to come out of the closet into a contract with a new team, endorsement deals, or even a robust off-the-court career.
Collins is a well-liked journeyman player with 12 seasons under his belt, but before his Monday announcement in Sports Illustrated that he's gay, the 34-year-old big man was hardly a lock to be picked up for next season.
Jeff Nelson, director of analytics for the sports-marketing firm Navigate Research, said there are likely conversations afoot in front offices across the league about whether Collins' new profile makes him a more attractive player.
"It would be great for him, great for the cause, great for the NBA if he was signed for another year," Nelson said. "But by the same token, you don't want it to appear that's the reason he's being signed."
Having Collins on the roster could also enhance a team's community credentials.
"His career might be extended because a team — and particularly the NBA — might see it as an opportunity to demonstrate that this announcement is a non-issue for them," said professor Stephen McDaniel, who specializes in sports and entertainment marketing at the University of Maryland.
"Not that he is in the same strata as an athlete, but maybe you could argue that a team or league could see this symbolic of being inclusive in the same way we view the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson in baseball."
It could even put more bodies in the seats, but the real benefit will be for Collins, who is now on the radar of sponsors.
His only current endorsement deal is with Nike, which said in a statement that it's proud of his "courage." Experts say if he has a jersey to wear next season, Nike could raise his profile and other brands will likely consider him.
"I don't think you'll see him on a Wheaties box," said Robert Tuchman, former president of TSE Sports & Entertainment, who noted that big mainstream brands may be more cautious in embracing an athlete whose name is so closely associated with a hot-button social issue.
"But there are going to be brands that want to get behind him," he added. "I think you'll see brands that are more hip and cool and really in touch with 18-25 [year-old demographic].
"If he plays his cards right and he continues to play in the league, there's definitely a seven-figure opportunity," Tuchman said.
Nelson said that Collins will have to "walk a fine line" and should focus on message-based ad campaigns to avoid looking crass.
"Certainly there are brands that want to reach the gay community," Nelson said. "But nobody, especially him, wants to look like they're capitalizing on this."
Companies that already reference progressive issues in their advertising or non-profits will be the best bets, he said.
There will be more and better deals if Collins, 35, is playing next season. But even if he's not, his trail-blazing could turn out to be a good career move.
Thad Williamson, an associate professor at the University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies author of "More Than a Game: Why North Carolina Basketball Means So Much to So Many," noted that the Sports Illustrated essay is sure to lead to a round of TV interviews and possible speeches.
"Could he end up being a guy who's in the studio or is hired by a network to provide commentary? I don't see why not," Williamson said. "If he does well with his media attention, it could help him."
Collins' major at Stanford was economics, but could he have a future in politics? It's probably too early to tell, but consider a few of the well-known friends who were among the first to express support for him Monday: former president Bill Clinton and Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy.
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