Gay in the NBA: Jason Collins Comes Out

Photo: (Getty)

Photo: (Getty)

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be gay and play in the NBA? Well, until today, you wouldn’t have had anyone to ask. Jason Collins, who has played for six NBA teams and appeared in two NBA finals, is the first openly gay athlete playing on a major American sports team.

In his own words: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”

Collins opens up in Sports Illustrated about how he wasn’t eager to be the first person to start the conversation. He admits that, “If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”

+ Why He Went Public

So when, exactly, did the free agent decide to go public? Collins talks about how his former roommate at Stanford, Joe Kennedy, told him he had just marched in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade. Collins said he is “seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn’t even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator.” He goes on to say that it is such “a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride.”

Collins talks about how hard it was to guard something so personal: “No one wants to live in fear. … It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie.” He finally realized that he “shouldn’t have to live under the threat of being outed,” that the announcement “should be mine to make, not TMZ’s.”

+ The Significance of #98

Although Collins was closeted for many years, he did have “one small gesture of solidarity”: wearing jersey number 98 with the Celtics and then the Wizards. Collins notes that the number has “great significance to the gay community. One of the most notorious antigay hate crimes occurred in 1998. Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was kidnapped, tortured and lashed to a prairie fence. He died five days after he was finally found. That same year the Trevor Project was founded. When I put on my jersey I was making a statement to myself, my family and my friends.”

+ He Welcomes Real Talk

Collins acknowledges that “openness may not completely disarm prejudice,” but that “it’s a good place to start.” He even pledged to “sit down with any player who’s uneasy about (his) coming out.”

Collins joins WNBA first overall draft pick Brittney Griner, who just last week came out publicly as gay, in what we hope are signs of a change in the way gay athletes are viewed. Athletes are athletes no matter their sexual orientation.

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