Monday, May 13, 2013

0 comments Jason Collins Coming Out of the Closet Is Increasing the Unemployment Rate

David Steele wants us to know all about the conspiracy he knows about that goes on in professional sports. Well, he won't call it a conspiracy, but he finds it quite odd that after Jason Collins comes out of the closet an average-to-below-average punter and 36 year old linebacker with 251 career tackles are out of jobs. Steele thinks Collins' announcement is complicated because now NFL teams are releasing players who support gay rights. Well, Steele won't say he believes this, but otherwise he wouldn't have written this column if he wasn't a bit suspicious of why Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo don't have jobs with an NFL team right now. Obviously I can't speak directly to the motives of every NFL team, but there are other reasons outside of their outspoken nature why Kluwe and Ayanbadejo don't have NFL jobs.

Among the many issues raised last week when Jason Collins came out of the closet in a Sports Illustrated cover story, was how much impact the groundbreaking move would still have if Collins, a free agent this offseason, wasn’t an active NBA player next season. 

Jason Collins has averaged 3.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.8 personal fouls for his career. He admits he is very good at committing personal fouls and being tall and that's about it. He averaged 1.1 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 2.2 fouls this year while shooting 31% from the field. It's not like we are talking about a highly productive player here. His main function is to be tall and commit fouls. Normally no one would question why a 34 year old who barely averages as many points and rebounds combined as he does personal fouls doesn't have an NBA job. If he doesn't get a job in the NBA next year it may not be specifically because he is gay. I'll grant David Steele that there may be some Tebow-aspect related to why Collins doesn't have a job next season. It comes back to his skill level more than his sexuality though. His skill level isn't worth the scrutiny the team would come under. It's unfortunate and I don't like it, but until more players come out of the closet, the team that signs Jason Collins will make national headlines.

There is a difference in not signing Collins because he is gay and not signing Collins because a team doesn't want to handle the media scrutiny that goes along with it. It's possibly a small difference, but there is a difference.

A week later, the sports world may have been provided a partial answer: Chris Kluwe was released by the Minnesota Vikings.

As I put in MMQB recently, these are Chris Kluwe's net punting and gross average rankings over the last six years.

2012: 17th, 22nd
2011: 22nd, 13th
2010: 10th, 21st
2009: 18th, 15th
2008: 21st, 4th
2007: 14th, 8th

He was scheduled to make 1.4 million this year, which puts him in the Top 15-highest paid punters in the NFL. He's not a Top 15 punter, especially since Blair Walsh does the kickoffs so well for the Vikings. You can't argue with the pro-Kluwe crowd though. Writers like Peter King use statistics that aren't measured relative to other NFL punters. Peter likes to throw out numbers like:

Kluwe has punted for eight years in the NFL, all of them with the Vikings. His 39.7-yard net average in 2012 was a career-best. His 45.0-yard gross average was the third-best in his career.

These numbers are impressive when not compared to other NFL punters, which is how Kluwe should be compared. Looking at these numbers relative to other NFL punters Kluwe's career-best net average was only good for 17th in the NFL. The best he ever performed in terms of net average made him 17th best in the NFL. Then Kluwe's third-best career gross average was only good for 22nd in the NFL. Even at his best, Kluwe wasn't an average punter last year. Plus, he was making $1.4 million for 2013, so this factor can't be ignored in conjunction with his performance.

I don't have an agenda, which is why I can be neutral as it pertains to Kluwe. I'm not caught up in whether I think his social opinion has a place in the NFL, I just want to watch football, and I am very happy an active athlete has come out of the closet. I think it is about time. It's funny how you can look at statistics from a neutral perspective when you don't have an agenda. Peter King has an agenda and doesn't compare Kluwe's statistics relative to other NFL punters.

The only active pro athlete as outspoken on behalf of gay rights as Kluwe was linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo … who was released by the Baltimore Ravens a month ago, before Collins’ big acknowledgement. 

The Ravens anticipated a player was going to come out of the closet soon and immediately released Brendan Ayanbadejo in retaliation for supporting the yet-to-be-named player coming out of the closet.

“I find it interesting that the timing is what it is,’’ said Dr. Mary McDonald, sports sociologist and kinesiology professor at Miami University of Ohio, whose specialties include gender issues and the history of activism. 

You're an idiot who is engaging in pure speculation to create a story that doesn't exist. Brendon Ayanbadejo was a 36 year old linebacker who started three games last year (which the Ravens lost every game he started...not that there is a correlation, I'm not saying there is) and had 16 tackles in the games he played. Remember that beginning of the offseason when Ozzie Newsome and Steve Bisciotti said tough decisions concerning veterans were going to be made? Ayanbedejo was one of those decisions. He had a $1,073,333 cap hit for 2013 and this is money that could easily be spent on a younger, less expensive player who has yet to reach his ceiling. Don't create a story where there isn't one.

“There’s no conspiracy here,’’ she added, “but the timing is very interesting …

You're just repeating yourself now.

The question is, how does either advocacy about sexual orientation or coming out create unease around teams, work environments and sponsors?” 

I guess we'll find out when a gay athlete who isn't 34 years old and generally useless for anything other than committing personal fouls comes out of the closet. Maybe we will also find out when a professional athlete who is an advocate for gay rights starts voicing his opinion and doesn't get cut. If only that would ever happen. Wait, it has happened! Not many of these players were as vocal as Kluwe and Ayanbedejo, but they are showing an example of the atmosphere that coming out creates around teams and work environments. But no, let's focus on the two players who were both mediocre NFL players and how they were released only because they advocated for gay rights. Let's ignore Ayanbedejo was released prior to Jason Collins ever coming out, and was only average before then. Kluwe was expensive and under-performing, so that's an excellent explanation for why he was cut.

The initial response from around sports, including from NFL active and retired players, was encouraging of the step forward. 

But again, let's focus on the fate of two players who were probably going to be released anyway that were advocates for gay rights. Maybe the Vikings cut Kluwe because of his opinion. I doubt it, because his performance, salary and overall actions over the past few seasons (covering the patch on his uniform, releasing a profanity-laced response to Emmett Burns...the content of the letter was probably more of a headache for the Vikings than what he was advocating for) could be what motivated the Vikings to go in a different direction.

I also can't escape the irony that some of the same people who believe Chris Kluwe lost his punting job with the Vikings due to his social views also wanted Chris Broussard fired from ESPN for his opinion on homosexuality. I've said it before in this space, but if I became a strong advocate for a social issue, and this somehow bled into my employment in any way, then I would have no doubt my employer would tell me to tone it down. I don't think Kluwe was released for his advocacy regarding gay rights, because his performance as it relates to his salary probably would have done the trick otherwise.

“Just because we have one, that doesn’t mean the job is done,’’ said Hudson Taylor, the founder of Athlete Ally,

What? I thought Jason Collins successfully changed society and sports' view on homosexuality simply by coming out of the closet? I'm shocked.

“There’s never been a successful social change in a minority group without the help of the majority,’’ Taylor said. “If we’re going to make our locker rooms safe and inclusive places for everybody, we’re going to need active players who are ‘out’ and in those locker rooms and part of those teams.’’ 

This means more players who are gay should come out of the closet. 34 year olds who average 1 point and almost 2 rebounds per game don't always get a chance to get a new contract in the NBA. Jason Collins is tall, which is good for his ability to get signed, but he also is relatively untalented. I know he isn't demanding it, but it is sort of insensitive for Taylor to state other active gay players need to come out of the closet as if they are doing the movement a disservice by staying in the closet. Just because the time was right for Collins doesn't mean it is right for other active gay players.

That, then, would mean that Collins’ negotiations to either re-join the Wizards or sign elsewhere will take on tremendous weight. 

Or it would mean another active athlete came out of the closet to help share the burden with Collins. There's always that option too. It has to be the right time for the player though.

“I think that if he isn’t picked up by any team, it’ll send the message, intended or not, that such players should stay in the closet,’’ said Sterling Washington, who heads the mayor’s office on LGBT affairs for Washington, D.C. could send the message that Jason Collins doesn't provide much of a benefit to an NBA team anymore and no team wants to sign a 34 year old whose ability to foul is the biggest benefit he provides to a team. Let's not forget Jason Collins' twin brother (Jarron Collins) had to work on ten-day contracts with two teams before he eventually retired in 2011. I'm pretty sure he wasn't blackballed for being straight.

The aforementioned reactions came before Kluwe’s release. The fact that he, Ayanbadejo and the recently-retired Scott Fujita were the primary voices of support in the NFL—and are now all unemployed—has not gone unnoticed.

Fujita retired, Ayanbadejo was easily replaceable, and Chris Kluwe was under-performing as it relates to the salary he was being paid. There, I easily explained why these players are all unemployed. Also, excuse me if I don't feel terrible that a group of millionaires are now unemployed. It's not like they are going to have to work the streets to scrape up money to live on.

That also reflects the “intended or not” caveat, because, like the 34-year-old Collins, age and contract status are logical justification for Ayanbadejo’s and Fujita’s career uncertainty. 

Exactly. Productive veterans are cut all the time in the NFL for salary reasons. Collins, again, isn't very good at basketball and his twin brother had trouble finding a job in the NBA back in 2011, while Scott Fujita retired. He retired. He chose to stop playing football. Stop creating issues where there aren't any.

But that other, looming factor can’t automatically be dismissed. Kluwe, the franchise’s all-time leader in punting average, is just 31 and was still effective last season.

No, he wasn't effective. He was below average and being paid like he was average. That's not being effective.

All things considered, McDonald said, Kluwe’s release “might be a little more complicated.

It could have to do with Kluwe being a pain in the ass on issues other than his opinion about social issues. It could also have to do with his salary and performance. Why is everyone ignoring Kluwe's below average performance last year?

“I think if you put the body of work and research to it, you can conclude that homophobia plays a role.’’ 

I've put the body of work and research into it and I can't say for sure homophobia played a role. Did Mary McDonald (the speaker here) look at Kluwe's body of work and do research? It doesn't sound like she did, or if she did, then she wanted to reach a certain conclusion. It seems presumptive to me to just say you can conclude homophobia played a role in this situation. Wanting to come to this conclusion doesn't make it a fact.

Kluwe himself has stayed silent, unlike Ayanbadejo, who initially pointed directly at his activism as the reason he was released (“My bark is bigger than my bite,’’ he told Newsday), then completely reversed his field the next day. 

Ayanbadejo should reverse field. He was a 36 year old linebacker on a team that is looking to get younger and more productive at the linebacker spot. His release probably had very little to do with his bark and more to do with his skill level and his current age.

“Generally, what I’ll say is, there is an athletic culture that discourages athletic activism of any kind,’’ Taylor said. 

This is fairly true for a lot of jobs. If I became famous for being active on social issues that were divisive or received media attention I'm pretty sure my employer would have a talk with me or try to separate themselves in some way from my statements. It's just how it works and it's not exclusive to athletics.

But Collins’ coming out isn’t changing it overnight—and the week that separated that from Kluwe being released only complicates things. 

It only complicates things if you want it to complicate things. If you understand the NFL's salary cap, look at Kluwe's contract situation, and then look at his performance, then it might make sense for him to be released. It's impossible and even pointless to speculate exactly why Kluwe was released. His performance and salary dictated it could happen. I won't be crying tears for a millionaire simply because he agrees with me on some social issues. If you want to make the assumption Kluwe was released because of his opinion, that's your right, but it also reflects a lack of research on your part. It's impossible to pinpoint a reason Kluwe was released.

“It does make one wonder,’’ she said, “to what extent it will be an obstacle to overcome.’’ 

Well, it has been almost a month since Jason Collins came out of the closet. If the world's and the attitudes in sports can't change in month then I guess they will never change. It's not like change takes time or anything. It's infuriating to me how those who advocate for gay rights in sport and still have a job are being overlooked in this conversation by some people, while these same people focus on a 36 year old linebacker and a below average punter getting released as proof of retaliation for advocating for gay rights. Ignore the information that doesn't prove your point and focus only on the information you want to see as pertinent, that's what these people are doing.