Jason Collins Announcement: 5 Spin-Off Story Ideas

“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center.  I’m black.  And I’m gay.”  With those words, published yesterday in a Sports Illustrated cover story, Jason Collins became an instant American icon.

The veteran NBA player is now the first active male athlete in one of America’s four premier sports leagues– the NBA, NHL, MLB, and NFL– to publicly declare he is gay.

As his announcement continues to reverberate across the public, press, and sporting landscapes, there are a plethora of potential spin-off stories worth pursuing that may be relevant to your campus or higher education in general.  Here are five possible news and feature pieces to consider.

1) The Obvious.  Grab reactions from students, faculty, and staff at all levels and in all parts of your school– from the university president, a campus Christian coalition representative, and student-athletes and coaches to student super-fans, foreign exchange students, and members of the LGBTQ community.  Along with grabbing your own reactions, check the social media feeds of prominent and everyday students and staff.  Any especially out-of-the-blue, passionate or vitriolic tweets or status updates?

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2) The Check-In.  Use the Collins declaration as a platform for a progress report on where your school stands on gay rights, education, and awareness issues.  How accepted and safe do LGBTQ students and staff feel in 2013?  What incidents have campus security or administrators dealt with in recent semesters?  What related research are professors pursuing?  What related classes or course content is being offered?  What have been the turnouts for, and relative successes of, related campus events? And what revisions have been made to the school’s admissions, housing, and student life guidelines?  Separately, speak to alumni to determine the campus atmosphere in past eras.

3) The Neutral Movement.  At a growing number of colleges and universities– in middle America and along the coasts– students are protesting, passing resolutions, and publishing commentaries calling for more gender-neutral housing and restroom options.  The push appears to be part of a larger student-led fight on some campuses for greater “transgender inclusiveness,” something The Oklahoma Daily hailed last spring as being at the heart of “this generation’s civil rights movement.”  What is the status of the gender-neutral fight at your school, if one exists?

4) The Fame Factor.  In a new report, The Huffington Post confirms one major side-effect of Collins’ announcement is an opportunity for him “to be of some value to big brands looking to capitalize on his newfound fame.”  Sexual orientation aside, what students or staff at your school have suddenly found themselves on a rocket trip to fame-town?  What precipitated the extreme exposure?  And what have their post-fame experiences been like– short-term and long-term?

5) The Support System.  In his first-person piece for SI, Collins expresses great admiration for one of his aunts.  Being the first relative he told, her understanding made him “comfortable in my own skin.”  Who do students most often utilize as their own support systems?  Why has a particular family member or friend been placed in the number-one supporter role?  And what do students recall about the suport they have been given or given to others during a major moment of personal or even national trauma?

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For hundreds of additional ideas, check out my new book Journalism of Ideas: Brainstorming, Developing, and Selling Stories in the Digital Age.  One early supporter calls it “an instant classic” and “the next new mandatory text for college journalists.”  Order a copy today.

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