Openly Gay NBA star Jason Collins has been quietly supporting the LGBT community even before coming out as gay on Monday. In memory of slain Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, the Washington Wizards center wore the number 98 jersey as a tribute during the 2012-2013 season.
“My one small gesture of solidarity was to wear jersey number 98 with the Celtics and then the Wizards,” said Collins in Sports Illustrated.
“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.”
Collins became the first openly gay athlete in any of the major American sports leagues after he published his first-person essay in Sports Illustrated on Monday.
“Each time I put on jersey 98 this past season, I was already sort of having that moment with myself, with my family, with my friends who knew the significance of why I picked that number,” the 34-year-old NBA player said in an interview with George Stephanopoulous on ABC News. “Jersey 98 for Matthew Shepherd. That’s why I wore jersey 98.”
Collins commented on the impact of the slain teenager’s death for the LGBT community.
“That same year the Trevor Project was founded. This amazing organization provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to kids struggling with their sexual identity,” Collins added.
“Trust me, I know that struggle. I’ve struggled with some insane logic. When I put on my jersey I was making a statement to myself, my family and my friends.”
Matthew Shephard’s mother, Judy, told MSNBC that Collins’ gesture was inspiring.
“For Jason to acknowledge Matt’s story and for him to come out at all at this time in his career and his life is really pretty amazing,” Judy said.
Since his public coming out, Collins has gained support from many politicians including President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, and his former college roommate, Democratic Representative Joe Kennedy III from Massachusetts. The NBA has also come out in support of his decision.
According to the Washington Post, “100 percent of personalized jerseys ordered from [Collins’ team the Wizards] online store yesterday were ‘Collins 98.′”