NBA center Jason Collins is the first openly gay professional athlete in American team sports. Rumors have circulated in recent weeks that one or more NFL players were preparing to come out as gay in the near future, and the NHL announced a partnership with an organization that would support any of its players who chose to expose their sexuality.
But Collins’ announcement comes straight out of left field. Sports Illustrated got word that an unnamed player was ready to reveal his homosexuality, and the result is a first-person op/ed written by Collins himself. “The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect,” writes Collins. “Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?”
Collins says he wanted to be the one to reveal his sexuality, rather than live under fear of being outed by the media. “I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie,” he writes. “The announcement should be mine to make, not TMZ’s.”
He believes many of his fellow basketball players will be surprised by the news. “I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked,” Collins writes. “‘That guy is gay?’ 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.”
Collins reveals the reason he wore the number 98 on his jersey when playing for the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards, his two most recent teams, is a show of support to the gay community. “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.”
In addition the Boston Marathon bombings, Collins credits the recent Supreme Court hearings on gay marriage as part of the impetus for him to com forward. “The strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable in March, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage,” he writes. “Less then three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard, and I couldn’t say a thing. I didn’t want to answer questions and draw attention to myself. Not while I was still playing.”
In his closing statement, Collins seems to imply there are other closeted players in the NBA. “Some people insist they’ve never met a gay person. But Three Degrees of Jason Collins dictates that no NBA player can claim that anymore,” writes Collins. “Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who’s gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who’s out.”
Now a free agent, Collins spent his rookie season helping the then New Jersey Nets reach a 2002 NBA Finals berth against the Los Angeles Lakers. In 2008, Collins was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies and later signed with the Atlanta Hawks. He most recently spent time playing for the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards. Jason’s twin brother, Jarron Collins, is also an NBA player.
Jason, who hails from Los Angeles, says he dated women when he was younger and was at one time engaged to be married. Collins’ story is printed in the May 6, 2013 issue of SI.