NBA basketball player Jason Collins became the first openly gay professional athlete playing in a major U.S. team sport after coming out in a Sports Illustrated article today (April 29).
Collins, who is 34 years old and plays for the Washington Wizards, appears on the cover of the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine with the headline, “The Gay Athlete”.
In the article published online, Collins states, “I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. 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.”
Collins was raised in Los Angeles and attended Stanford University before signing to the New Jersey Nets in 2001. During his 12-year career, he has played for the Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, and Boston Celtics.
While Collins states that he knew that he was gay early on, he dated women and was once engaged to be married. He first came out to his aunt, a superior court judge in San Francisco, who gave Collins support, but didn’t come out to his twin brother until last year. In the Sports Illustrated article, Collins said that he suspected that his teammates and other NBA players will be surprised that he is gay.
“I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay?” Collins stated. “But I've always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn't make you soft? Who knows? That's something for a psychologist to unravel.”
He cited how he started thinking about coming out during the NBA player lockout in 2011. One of the recurring themes in the article is the strain and suffering that being closeted had on him, and the psychological and emotional toll it took on him trying to keep his sexual orientation a secret.
He experienced strong feelings of envy when his straight friend, Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy, marched in the Boston Pride Parade in 2012. He also found it incredibly difficult to withhold himself from speaking about the U.S. Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage in March.
Collins will march in the 43rd annual Boston Pride Parade on June 8.
Collins’ public disclosure about his sexual orientation comes shortly after Brittney Griner, a top women’s NCAA basketball player at Baylor University, confirmed that she is gay. On April 18, Griner was the number one WNBA draft pick and will play for the Phoenix Mercury.
Meanwhile, support has been pouring in for Collins.
NBA Commissioner David Stern issued a statement in response to Collins' decision.
"As Adam Silver and I said to Jason, we have known the Collins family since Jason and Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family. Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue."
Washington Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld also issued a statement:
“We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career. Those qualities will continue to serve him both as a player and as a positive role model for others of all sexual orientation.”
Numerous public figures have taken to Twitter to express support for Collins.
Very proud of my friend Jason Collins for having the strength & courage to be the first openly gay player in the NBA. bit.ly/ZLei9F— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) April 29, 2013
Happy for @jasoncollins34 - a thoughtful guy + beloved teammate, and now, a role model for so many struggling to come out. Good luck to him.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) April 29, 2013
History has been made. But this is just the beginning.