Jason Collins Could Be Nike’s New Star

NBA player's historic coming-out could have big sponsorship implications

Headshot of Christopher Heine

Social media reactions to Jason Collins becoming the first openly gay male professional athlete in American sports history suggest he will have no shortage of sponsorship opportunities from LGBT-friendly brands—which could be a list that grows because of his actions. In just one Twitter example, NBA commissioner David Stern wasted little time this morning proudly supporting Collins on the social media site with a thread of tweets (see below). The 34-year-old pro basketball vet came out in a Sports Illustrated cover story that hit the newsstands today.

On a pure advertising level, his only known sponsor, Nike, seems like the perfect company to push the Washington Wizard center's courageous public stance as an opportunity to further solidify the brand's recent history of supporting gay rights. Last week, Nike signed WNBA rookie Brittney Griner to what's reportedly a big contract only days after she stated her homosexuality. And 10 months ago, the sneakers giant held its first-ever Nike LGBT Sports Summit in its Portland, Ore., hometown.

Bob Dorfman, a creative director for Baker Street Advertising and a sports marketing analyst, expects Nike to run a TV commercial highlighting Collins with tasteful, matter-of-fact ad copy. "They could run a spot where they interview other athletes who support him," said Dorfman. "They have to be careful not to make this a hard sell. They don't want to make this out to be some gigantic thing. The attitude needs to be, 'This is actually not that big of deal. Its time has come. There will be more gay athletes coming out. It's just the beginning.'"

Because of the timing with Griner, Dorfman said, it's plausible that they'll both be a part of an equality-minded Nike campaign soon. "It could be, 'Just Do It,'" he said, pointing to the brand's famous tag line.

Meanwhile, with the NBA playoffs currently in full tilt, expect basketball pundits—the grand majority of which are ex-players—to weigh in on Collins in what could make for intriguing TV commentary about their typically macho world.

Lastly, and surprisingly, Nike's Facebook and Twitter accounts have yet to chime in about Collins at press time. Though it issued the following statement in his support: "Jason [Collins] is a Nike athlete. We are a company committed to diversity and inclusion."

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.