— Jason Collins 4/29/13
Just two weeks ago, I wrote about the hypothetical first open gay athlete, the importance of that person being a willing participant, one who could show the same powerful leadership and capability to withstand the pressure of being a pioneer like Jackie Robinson – one who could set the example for those who will come later.
Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete in the NBA or any major American sport, is that guy.
Collins has had inconspicuous career.
A backup center for most of his time in the NBA, Collins has seen his biggest success with the New Jersey Nets, starting for the Finals team who lost to the San Antonio Spurs, in 2002-03, during his time there. He has also made stops with the Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, and most recently, the Washington Wizards.
At 34-years old, the journeyman big-man is now in the limelight. According to the SI story, Collins first came out in 2011 to a relative. He kept waiting for the perfect opportunity to come out of the closet. Perhaps it was waiting for the perfect opportunity, as he suggests was the reason, or waiting for someone else to be first – as he said in the following quote:
“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.”
Either way, he says the Boston Marathon bombing was the final straw. Collins wrote, “The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?”
He had tested the water both with his Aunt, and most recently, his brother just last summer. The former seemed to know the whole time and welcomed Jason to his new life. The latter, Jarron Collins, was shocked, though not in any bad way.
“He was downright astounded. He never suspected. So much for twin telepathy. But by dinner that night, he was full of brotherly love. For the first time in our lives, he wanted to step in and protect me.”
Perhaps the support and different types of reactions he received from family and loved ones allowed him to feel confident enough to go public.
It could not have come at a better time.
Just two weeks ago, a spurned lover of former New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals safety, Kerry Rhodes, outted him on Twitter and a website, showing pictures of the two on vacation and being intimate. Rhodes to this day has denied all of the allegations.
Whether or not it is true, there remained a possibility of the first “out” gay athlete of a major-4 sport in the United States would be that way unconditionally. That is not the type of situation that spurs positivity and setting the future up right for those who will come next.
Jason Collins coming out on his own terms today did that. If the Sports Illustrated article has shown anything, it is that Collins is a well-read, well-spoken, and confident person who knows the weight of his situation and the task at hand. He is the pioneer, the Jackie Robinson of gays in sports.
Hits and baskets, tackles and goals have nothing to do with marital status or gender preference, but we know an announcement like this would send shock waves through sports.
The shock waves, turned out to be good vibes. Luckily for everyone involved and affected by Jason Collins’ announcement, one of the first to come to his support was one of the most outspoken, and greatest players in NBA history, Kobe Bryant.
That turned out to only be the start of the praise, respect, and support.
From the players of the NBA:
To athletes around sports:
To some of the United States’ biggest influencers:
As well as Presidents and their wives:
“He was impressed by his courage.” — White House Speaker on President Barack Obama’s reaction.
Yes, there have been some negative feedback. ESPN Basketball Analyst, Chris Broussard went on TV and said the following:
Others have shared negative thoughts as well.
There will also be the questions about his basketball life. He is currently a free agent looking for a team. There will still be a fear that he will be typecasted and segregated from the league.
But messages like this will fill the environment with optimism:
And this from Commissioner David Stern:
“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.”
The overwhelming reaction has been positive – something that must be relieving for those still waiting for their moment to be free of their secret.
Maybe this will help Kerry Rhodes, if he indeed feels like he has to stay hidden.
Maybe this will be the major opening of doors for anyone else who feels like they cannot be gay in sports.
But definitely, like others before him – from Martina Navratilova, to Greg Louganis, former WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes to former NBA player John Amaechi, Britney Griner, Robbie Rogers, Billie Jean King – and Patrick Burke, founder of “You Can Play” to support those who may come out – Jason Collins has taken another huge step for equality and tolerance in sports.
The day is his.
“Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start.” — Jason Collins