The sports media world has a collective hard on for Jason Collins' return to the NBA. They are applauding and treating a washed up veteran on a 10 day contract like a max contract power forward who will swing the title for a team. They also deny at all turns that there is any PR stunt vibe to the signing. Sadly, Collins is not cooperating with that. Casual fans will wonder why he chose number 98. The media will supply them with the narrative approved reason why. Collins chose the number 98 for his jersey number in honor of Matthew Shepard.
Matthew Shepard is the young man who was brutally murdered and then turned into a gay bashing icon. A new book out challenges that story, and does so in such a convincing fashion that Andrew Sullivan himself doubts the liberal narrative. Shepard went from a dead man to a saintly gay guy killed by rednecks for being gay. Years later, after being turned into a symbol of how hard it is to be gay in America, the story emerging is one where he was a low level drug dealer killed by a former love and also drug dealer over murkier reasons that being gay. Collins is a symbol. Michael Sam is a symbol. None of these reporters will ever ask them about their sex life, but they will definitely pretend they care when the camera is turned on. Odd, they never asked Collins' long term girlfriend and ex-fiancé too many questions.
The media keeps calling this history for a man to be openly gay in a professional sport. They care a lot. Fans do not. To deny this is in any way a PR stunt is a form of media masking the reality we see. If Collins' signing was purely about ball, he'd have come back with his old number. To use a number to pay homage to a martyr in the gay community is an obvious "we're here, we're queer, get used to it" statement. It is foolish considering the information we know now, but narrative trumps facts. It is even sicker to consider Collins using Shepard in any way to draw attention to himself. This is maybe too cynical but there was a sizeable group of fans who thought Collins' coming out was well timed for him to get a new contract for some brave team. ESPN would purge anyone for saying that, but they had an economic incentive to boost that story. It is the age of page click journalism.