CNN Hypes Gay NBA Player's 'Bombshell' Announcement, One for the 'History Books'

After NBA player Jason Collins came out as gay on Monday, CNN hyped the announcement as a "bombshell," a "big deal," and one for the "history books." CNN's open support of gay rights advocates is no secret, as it has already picked sides in the gay rights debate.

CNN's Don Lemon has framed gay rights advocates as being on the right side of history, and anchor Brooke Baldwin played into that narrative on Monday. "The NBA's Jason Collins has entered the history books today," she touted. "As of today, he's the first openly-gay male athlete playing a major team sport in America. This is a big deal."

Both Baldwin and host Jake Tapper were careful not to let the "conservative" "critics" rain on Collins' parade, either. "It's, interesting, the reaction on Twitter, the only thing I've seen – and I'm sure there are others out there who are being much harsher – but the only thing I've seen from conservatives that's critical at all is so what, who cares?" Tapper reported.

Baldwin was quick to note that only "some people" were saying that. "I'm saying the critics," Tapper clarified. "Yes, the critics for sure," added Baldwin.

Baldwin has been hostile to opponents of same-sex marriage in the past. Last year, she rudely asked the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, "Why do homosexuals bother you so much?" When a gay prosecutor's nomination to the Virginia state bench was blocked because of his history of activism, she compared the case with segregation.

Below is a transcript of the segment, which aired on CNN Newsroom on April 29 starting at 2:17 p.m. EDT:

[2:17]

BROOKE BALDWIN: Coming up next, a bombshell in the world of sports. An active NBA player tells Sports Illustrated that he is gay.

(...)

[2:20]

JAKE TAPPER: Word is spreading fast in the sports world that the NBA's Jason Collins is gay. He came out of the closet today. Sports Illustrated has the exclusive story. That's Jason Collins, a beaming Jason Collins under a headline reading "The Gay Athlete." He writes, quote, "The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn't wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant. So why not live truthfully?"

A little more about Jason Collins now. He's played 12 full seasons in the NBA. He finished in the past season with the Wizards in Washington, D.C. They're not in the playoffs. And come July 1st he'll be a 7 foot tall free agent. Kobe Bryant tweeted approval today of Collins coming out, as did Chelsea Clinton who studied at Stanford when Collins played there on a team with his twin brother Jarron. Even the White House is out with a statement that reads, quote, "We commend him for his courage and support him in this effort in hope that his fans and his team support him going forward." With us now from New York, Chris Stone, managing editor of Sports Illustrated which as we said, broke the Collins story. Collins is currently on an NBA roster, but that could change come July when he becomes a free agent. So he's the first. I guess the first question is, is he necessarily even going to be an NBA player next season?

CHRIS STONE, managing editor, Sports Illustrated: Well, I think he will, Jake. I mean, he's certainly determined to play next season. And we have a story that's running on our website, SI.com, this afternoon, with a comment from Doc Rivers, one of his former coaches, who fully expects that Jason Collins will be in the NBA next season.

TAPPER: Doc Rivers, of course, the coach here in Boston. He used to be a Celtic as well. I'm sorry.

BROOKE BALDWIN: No, it's just – quite a story. I read the piece in SI. And let me just back up and ask, do we know why now? Why this timing? And why to you all at Sports Illustrated?

STONE: Well, I think, you know, let's be clear, he doesn't want to be the bearer of any sort of battle flag here. It is a much simpler, more personal reason. He wants to have a family. He wants to – he wants the same life that his twin brother Jarron has. This is a secret he's kept for a very long time. He didn't even inform his brother that he was gay until late last summer. So, so much for twin telepathy.

TAPPER: We should point out, of course, he's not the first professional athlete to come out of the closet as gay. He's not the first current professional athlete. But what he is he's the first U.S. male in one of the big four sports. And, Chris, explain to people why that is significant.

STONE: Well, I think, you know, I realize that's a lot of qualifiers there, but, you know, the fact is he's – nobody has come out before him, which probably speaks to a culture of homophobia that exists there that doesn't exist in other sports arenas. So I think we ascribe a little bit more significance to this just because it has been this long and that he is, in fact, the first after all these years.

BALDWIN: Okay, Chris Stone with Sports Illustrated, Chris, thank you so much.

TAPPER: Congratulations on the scoop.

BALDWIN: Yeah. It's a great piece and it's been interesting, we have done a lot of these stories because there were talks that maybe a gay athlete would be coming out in the NFL and part of that piece and talking to a CBS sports reporter said that the fear is that the backlash from the fans, it's not so much in the locker room, but it's the fans. But if you read this piece, Jason says I've been booed before. I can handle this. So again, this is – this front cover of Sports Illustrated –

TAPPER: It's, interesting, the reaction on Twitter, the only thing I've seen – and I'm sure there are others out there who are being much harsher – but the only thing I've seen from conservatives that's critical at all is so what, who cares? Whereas five years ago, ten years ago, even though Twitter wasn't there, the reaction from people who disapprove of homosexuality for religious reasons or whatever, I think would have been a lot harsher. But now it's just why are we still talking about this?

BALDWIN: Yeah. Some people. Some –

TAPPER: I'm saying the critics.

BALDWIN: Yes, the critics for sure.

(...)

[3:17]

BROOKE BALDWIN: The NBA's Jason Collins has entered the history books today. And he did so with the simple words penned for Sports Illustrated. Take a look with me. "I am a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay." He goes on to write this, this is the cover of SI, by the way. Quote, "The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn't wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully? That's a quote from Jason Collins, a 12-year veteran of the NBA. As of today, he's the first openly-gay male athlete playing a major team sport in America. This is a big deal.

Joining me now from London, former NBA player John Amaechi, John Amaechi came out actually after he retired from the NBA. So, John, nice to see you. Tell me just what does this coming out mean to you?

AMAECHI: I think it's a remarkable thing. I think obviously that he's an active player is important. But more important than that, to me, is the fact of who he is. We could not, and I don't mean gay people could not, I mean society could not ask for a better more positive, more eloquent role model than this young man. He is remarkable in that extent. Anybody who has ever spoken to him knows he's not your average athlete. He is going to be able to tackle some difficult times that will come along with the many good things that are coming his way. He's going to be able to talk with nuance about issues that America still finds quite difficult and the sporting world within America still finds very, very difficult. It gives me wonderful, warm feelings to know that he's there and that he's going to be able to take this mantle along with playing hopefully, several more NBA seasons.

BALDWIN: You know, John, just reading the piece, he talks about how – he talks about his sheer physicality, talks about how he actually took someone out on the court, that person had to be rolled out on a stretcher, that he's not, you know, maybe someone who his players would immediately think could be gay. Even his own twin brother, when he told his twin brother, his twin brother was surprised. But back to your point about the fact he is an active player, why do you think that it is so significant for an active player to come out?

AMAECHI: Because it's a first. And firsts are important. I think it's important because the media thinks it is important. I've been unable to do any work for most of today because I've got seven hundred and, I think, sixty-five interview requests to talk about Jason. That makes it clear that he is a huge deal. That this story is a huge deal. And I just – I get it. I can't emphasize it enough. It isn't always just about the event itself. Sometimes it is about the person who makes the event. And in this case, he is what makes this special. The fact that he's an active player is important. The fact that he's in one of the major team sports in America is important. But the fact that he at his core is going to be superbly equipped to be a brilliant spokesperson, to be a wonderful role model for all types of people is what makes it exciting for me.     

BALDWIN: John Amaechi, we appreciate being one of your 762 e-mails. And we appreciate you responding to ours here on CNN. And we should just also be clear, of course, we're reaching out to Jason, but he's not giving interviews as of yet.
 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014