NBA’s Jason Collins Comes Out - First Professional Athlete To Do So
National Basketball Association center Jason Collins has come out, making him the first out male athlete in a major professional sport.
The sports world has been preparing for this moment for years: Many have speculated when an active major professional male athlete would come out. In the past months, rumors picked up and circulated around the Internet that someone in the National Football League was planning to come out this year. But on Monday it was revealed that Collins, of the Washington Wizards, wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated, explaining why he decided to come out.
"I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport," Collins, 34, said. "But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ’I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand."
The athlete added, "When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue."
Collins goes on to explain why he decided to come out now and says he was partly inspired by the Boston Marathon bombings. He said, "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. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew," Collin writes. "And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back."
The basketball player also said that his old roommate, Joe Kennedy (now a Massachusetts congressman), marched in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade.
"I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy," he said. "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."
The lawmaker responded to Collins’ announcement and said his friend "has been defined by three things: his passion for the sport he loves, his unwavering integrity, and the biggest heart you will ever find. Without question or hesitation, he gives everything he’s got to those of us lucky enough to be in his life. I’m proud to stand with him today and proud to call him a friend."
Already, support for the basketball player is pouring in. Russell Simmons, business magnate and founder of the hip-hop record label Def Jam, Tweeted "proud of Washington Wizards’ player Jason Collins (@JasonCollins34) for coming out. We will stand with you as you continue on your journey."
Former President Bill Clinton issued a statement in support of Collins, whom he said he has known since the athlete was a classmate of his daughter, Chelsea, at Stanford.
"I have known Jason Collins since he was Chelsea’s classmate and friend at Stanford," Clinton’s said. "Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community. It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities. For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive. I hope that everyone, particularly Jason’s colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned."
Chelsea echoed her father’s sentiments and tweeted, "Very proud of my friend Jason Collins for having the strength & courage to be the first openly gay player in the NBA."
Over the past year or so, a number of athletes have voiced their support for LGBT rights, including former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluew. Despite the positive sea change in major sports, there have been some concerning incidents. Not long before the 2013 Super Bowl did San Francisco 49ers player Chris Culliver make headlines for saying he would not accept an openly gay player in the NFL or on his team. "I don’t do the gay guys, man," Culliver said. "I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do."
Nevertheless, Collins, and other openly gay athletes, may financially benefit from being open about their sexual orientation. Nike officials have apparently been interested in sponsoring an active and out male athlete. The sports wear company has already launched an endorsement deal with women’s college basketball star Brittney Griner, who is openly lesbian.
Collins has played for six NBA teams in his career. Earlier this year, the Boston Celtics traded him to the Washington Wizards in exchange for guard Jordan Crawford. Collins averaged 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds for the Celtics, starting in seven games.