Former Celtic Jason Collins Is the First Openly Gay NBA Player
Jason Collins, traded to the Wizards after beginning the season with the Celtics, came out as gay in a personal essay written for Sports Illustrated and published Monday. As Collins himself notes, this is something of a huge first in the world of professional sports. “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport,” he writes. “But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”
It was a barrier that seemed likely to be broken before long ever since rumors of NFL players preparing to go public got passed around earlier this year. (The NFL players have remained quiet.) Collins names several reasons he decided to come out now. One of them is his former college roommate at Stanford, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III:
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’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. 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.
Kennedy said in a statement today:
For as long as I’ve known Jason Collins he has been defined by three things: his passion for the sport he loves, his unwavering integrity, and the biggest heart you will ever find. Without question or hesitation, he gives everything he’s got to those of us lucky enough to be in his life. I’m proud to stand with him today and proud to call him a friend.
Collins also said it was difficult to listen to the Supreme Court debate gay marriage last month without being able to speak up. And finally, he says that the Celtics trading him to the Wizards provided him a nice transition:
When I signed a free-agent contract with Boston last July, I decided to commit myself to the Celtics and not let my personal life become a distraction. When I was traded to the Wizards, the political significance of coming out sunk in. I was ready to open up to the press, but I had to wait until the season was over.
Though he’s been keeping quiet on the Celtics, he does note that he wears the number 98 purposefully, to commemorate the year that University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was violently murdered because of his sexuality.
It might seem strange in 2013, but because Collins is a test case, he talks apprehensively about how his league-mates and fans will greet the news. (Hey, at least Kobe Bryant is probably on board. No zeal like that of a convert.) At the least, he seemed aware on Twitter that he’s about to have a very busy week:
Played golf for the 1st time since Oct on Sun. I broke 100 and had a birdie. Great way to relax before the start of a big week.
— Jason Collins (@jasoncollins34) April 29, 2013
His former coach Doc Rivers already released a statement saying he’s “extremely happy and proud of Jason Collins. He’s a pro’s pro.” Perhaps the reception will be gracious enough that before long, a professional athlete’s personal admission need not make the cover of Sports Illustrated. But we’re certainly not there yet, as SI‘s Jon Wortheim makes clear:
At some point the idea of having no openly gay athletes in a league might sound as unimaginable as a ball field segregated by race. But today Collins becomes the first active male athlete in a major U.S. team sport to come out of the closet. Yes, that’s a lot of qualifiers. Yes, it may be an artificial construct. But it is a milestone.