NBC Pundit: Jason Collins Like 'Rosa Parks,' A 'Gay Hero' Starting A 'Movement'

During a panel discussion on Thursday's NBC Today, attorney and regular pundit Star Jones compared gay NBA player Jason Collins to a civil rights icon: "I don't think that, say a Rosa Parks, set out to be the person that people will call the mother of the civil rights – civil rights era. I don't think that Jason Collins started out thinking, 'I'm going to be this gay hero.' But if it becomes a movement that equalizes people not based on their sexuality, it works." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Co-host Matt Lauer started off the conversation by touting a panel topic from weeks earlier: "I wanna start with a subject that brings us full circle to a subject we discussed here about a month ago. We were asking the question when will a male in a professional major sport in the United States come out and say, 'I'm gay'? We got the answer this week....What's next? What happens? Do we see a lot of other players come out?"

Advertising executive Donny Deutsch cynically applauded how the decision to come out probably boosted the mediocre basketball player's career:

It's interesting, the Times did a study about seven-foot centers, 34-year-olds, with his stats he would have a 50% chance of getting hired next year. Guess what? It's 100% now....[NBA Commissioner] David Stern, who is a brilliant marketer, will not let the NBA reject him, even if performance-wise he would be. So I find it fascinating at this moment in time he chose to do it. Obviously, brave thing to do, career, brilliant thing to do.

Fill-in panelist, Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi, agreed: "I don't think it's a bad thing even if it does benefit his career. So what? There's such great benefit to what he did. And you know, we're all trying to use whatever we can to stand out. And this is a noble way for Jason to stand out. And I think it's a great idea to come out."

Lauer followed up: "But let me get this straight. Are you saying if he had a contract now for the next couple of years, he might not have come out at this point?" Deutsch remarked: "Who knows?" Lakshmi replied: "I'm not saying that. I don't know Jason Collins. All I'm saying is I'm glad he came out. And if he gets some ancillary benefit from it, more power to him."

Wrapping up the segment, Lauer fretted: "The question is, does this prompt other major players? Some are questioning out loud whether Jason Collins has the star power to get other players to do the same thing."

During a panel discussion on Tuesday, news reader Natalie Morales voiced her approval of Collins coming out by proclaiming:

...thank goodness for that. I'm just so looking forward to the day when this kind of thing doesn't matter. You know, where someone's sexuality, sexual orientation, it's not a big deal....Hopefully this opens the door for others. And I think what's important to note is, as so many people have said, is you know, he's a role model for a lot of kids now who struggle with this and struggle with their sexual orientation.

Weatherman Al Roker added: "Jason just made a courageous stand and good for him."

Tuesday's Today also featured Lauer talking to liberal New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica about the news, with Lupica ranting that the Supreme Court better support gay marriage as a result.


Here is a full transcript of the May 2 panel discussion:



8:11AM ET

MATT LAUER: We're back now at 8:11 and we've got Today's Professionals with us. Star Jones, Donny Deutsch, and Padma Lakshmi, host of Bravo's Top Chef, is here to take the spot of Dr. Nancy. Welcome all, nice to see you.

I wanna start with a subject that brings us full circle to a subject we discussed here about a month ago. We were asking the question when will a male in a professional major sport in the United States come out and say, "I'm gay"? We got the answer this week, Jason Collins, a pro basketball player, did it directly and eloquently. So brings us to the next question. What's next? What happens? Do we see a lot of other players come out?

DONNY DEUTSCH: Well, let me first of all talk about Jason and his career. It's interesting, the Times did a study about seven-foot centers, 34-year-olds, with his stats he would have a 50% chance of getting hired next year.

LAUER: He's without a team right now.

STAR JONES: Right, he's a free agent.

DEUTSCH: Guess what? It's 100% now.

PADMA LAKSHMI: Totally.

DEUTSCH: David – it's very interesting, I'm not saying he did it for this reason – but [NBA Commissioner] David Stern, who is a brilliant marketer, will not let the NBA reject him, even if performance-wise he would be. So I find it fascinating at this moment in time he chose to do it. Obviously, brave thing to do, career, brilliant thing to do.

LAKSHMI: I don't think it's a bad thing even if it does benefit his career. So what?

DEUTSCH: Yeah, absolutely, of course.

LAKSHMI: There's such great benefit to what he did. And you know, we're all trying to use whatever we can to stand out. And this is a noble way for Jason to stand out. And I think it's a great idea to come out.

LAUER: But let me get this straight. Are you saying if he had a contract now for the next couple of years, he might not have come out at this point?

LAKSHMI: I'm not saying that. I don't know Jason Collins.

DEUTSCH: Who knows?

LAKSHMI: All I'm saying is I'm glad he came out. And if he gets some ancillary benefit from it, more power to him.

STAR JONES: I don't think that, say a Rosa Parks, set out to be the person that people will call the mother of the civil rights – civil rights era. I don't think that Jason Collins started out thinking, "I'm going to be this gay hero." But if it becomes a movement that equalizes people not based on their sexuality, it works.

LAUER: Yeah, but that's where I started, and we kind of got off the subject. The question is, does this prompt other major players? Some are questioning out loud whether Jason Collins has the star power to get other players to do the same thing.

LAKSHMI: I think he does, only because of the reaction from other major NBA stars and just entertainers in the media in general. I mean, I was on Twitter and I saw so many people who don't even give a darn about basketball come out [to support Collins].

LAUER: Who are paying attention now.

LAKSHMI: Yeah. 

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC