Sometimes, it’s not easy to be the first. But Jason Collins, a center recently traded to the Washington Wizards from the Boston Celtics, has come out as the first openly gay athlete for a major U.S. sporting team.
The 34-year-old, who has been in the NBA for 12 seasons, authored an article in Sports Illustrated’s May 6 print edition, available online now, to open up about his sexual orientation.
“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,” Collins wrote. “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.”
He continues to explain that as a free agent — “literally and figuratively” — he is coming out because both he and coaches know he still has plenty to bring to the game, but at the same time he wants to be “genuine and authentic and truthful.”
Collins writes that he dated women, was once engaged and followed what he believed to be a model dictating he “live a certain way.”
He first began considering revealing his sexuality in 2011 during the lockout, which drove him out of his routine and gave him the time to look inside himself. He received support and confidence from his aunt, the first family member he came out to.
Hearing his former roommate at Stanford and now Massachusetts Sen. Joe Kennedy marched in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade made Collins jealous at his ability to be open about his support for homosexuality. But it was the recent bombing of the Boston Marathon that drove Collins to come out publicly once and for all.
“Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully? When I told Joe a few weeks ago that I was gay, he was grateful that I trusted him. He asked me to join him in 2013. We’ll be marching on June 8,” Collins wrote.
“Loyalty to my team is the real reason I didn’t come out sooner,” he continued later in the article. “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.”
Still, some might have noticed that he wore the number 98 on his jersey, which is a reference to Matthew Shepard who was beaten because of his sexuality and died as a result of his injuries in 1998.
Collins reveals that his biggest fear is that his teammates won’t act professionally in the locker room.
“Believe me, I’ve taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn’t an issue before, and it won’t be one now,” he wrote.
As for fans, he wrote, “I don’t mind if they heckle me. I’ve been booed before.”
Collins references a study evaluating cohesion in the military after the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, saying he envisions the same success happening in the sports arena. But if he’s met with prejudice, he said “I’ll sit down with any player who’s uneasy about my coming out.”
Collins wrote that being gay is not a choice, calling it a tough and at times lonely road. Some people he said will remain entitled to their opinion, to which Collins said he would “set a pretty hard pick on him … and then move on.”
Collins said that his family instilled in him Christian values and that he hopes to someday raise a family of his own.
Watch WPIX’s report regarding Collin’s reveal about his sexuality:
Read more of his personal statement in Sports Illustrated here.
(H/T: Huffington Post)