Prior to April 29, 2013, no professional athlete playing one of the four major American team sports was openly gay. Players have come out after retirement, but there was no man on an NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB roster that had ever come out as gay. Washington Wizards center Jason Collins has officially changed that.
“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.”
In an inspiring story that will appear in the May 6 edition of Sports Illustrated, Collins spoke about his decision to come out and the burden he has had to bear from keeping such a massive secret for more than 34 years. Collins said his decision to come out reached its peak when Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy, who happened to be his roommate at Stanford, told him he had marched in the 2012 Gay Pride Parade in Boston.
“I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy,” Collins explained. “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. If I’d been questioned, I would have concocted half truths. What a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride. I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, ‘Me, too.’”
Collins also explained how the tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon helped him realize he should not wait for the perfect circumstances in his life to come out, since they may never come. In an era where players make dumb homophobic remarks and say they feel a player coming out would be a distraction, Collins said the fear of burdening his teammates kept him from coming out sooner.
“Loyalty to my team is the real reason I didn’t come out sooner,” he explained. “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.”
He added that having a “double life” has prevented him from becoming close to some of his teammates, but that he hopes they will continue to support him as any good teammate would. The seven-footer also noted that he feels he breaks many of the stereotypes and “soft” labels that go along with being gay.
“I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: 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. My motivations, like my contributions, don’t show up in box scores, and frankly I don’t care about stats. Winning is what counts. I want to be evaluated as a team player.”
The entire story is worth reading, as it almost perfectly encapsulates the difficulties that go along with being a gay athlete playing a major team sport in the US. With rumors swirling that several NFL players have been contemplating coming out, the hope is that Collins can help those players feel more comfortable with who they are. The courage it took for Collins to become the first openly gay athlete in the “big four” American sports is something most of us will never be able to comprehend.Google+