NBA Player Jason Collins became the first male athlete to publicly come out in any of the major American sports leagues. In the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated, he talks about his journey and why he decided to come out now.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” said Collins.
“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 talks about his journey from his hometown in Los Angeles and playing 6 pro teams and appearing in two NBA Finals. His accomplishments include the NCAA Final Four and the Elite Eight, two state high school championships, and nine playoffs in 12 NBA seasons.
“I’m a veteran, and I’ve earned the right to be heard,” Collins said. “I’ll lead by example and show that gay players are no different from straight ones. I’m not the loudest person in the room, but I’ll speak up when something isn’t right.”
Collins also talks about the first time he came out to his aunt Teri, a San Francisco Superior Court judge.
“Her reaction surprised me,” Collins says. “‘I’ve known you were gay for years.’ From that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin. In her presence I ignored my censor button for the first time. She gave me support. The relief I felt was a sweet release.”
He explained his journey as he dated women and desperately thought he wanted to marry and raise kids.
But after the Boston Marathon bombings, Collins knew life can change instantly and he “shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of [his]coming out to be perfect.” “¨
“I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue,” Collins said. “I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade. 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.”
Collins’s decision to go public caused his family some trepidation.
“My maternal grandmother was apprehensive about my plans to come out publicly,” he said. “She grew up in rural Louisiana and witnessed the horrors of segregation. During the civil rights movement she saw great bravery play out amid the ugliest side of humanity. She worries that I am opening myself up to prejudice and hatred. I explained to her that in a way, my coming out is preemptive. I shouldn’t have to live under the threat of being outed. The announcement should be mine to make, not TMZ’s.”
Still, fear of persecution isn’t far from his mind, but is outweighed by the fear of being outed under circumstances he can’t control.
“No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing,” said Collins. “I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. 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. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time.”
After the DOMA and Prop 8 hearings, and after public figures and friends came out as LGBT allies, Collins decided it was the right time to come out.
“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,” said Collins. “Less than 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.”
Collins feels that the climate of public opinion has shifted, saying “I’m glad I’m coming out in 2013 rather than 2003.”
“And yet we still have so much farther to go. Everyone is terrified of the unknown, but most of us don’t want to return to a time when minorities were openly discriminated against.”
Collins also talked about the lack of gay athletes in the sports leagues.
“¨“Some people insist they’ve never met a gay person,” Collins concluded. “But Three Degrees of Jason Collins dictates that no NBA player can claim that anymore. Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who’s gay.”