"i'm a 34 year old nba center. i'm black. and i'm gay."
jason collins, a 12-year veteran and current reserve center for the washington wizards, became the first active, professional male athlete from one of the four major u.s. sports leagues to publicly admit he's gay. collins wrote a first-person article, which was posted on sports illustrated's website monday. "I think the country is ready for supporting an openly gay basketball player," collins told abc's good morning america, in an interview which aired tuesday morning.
collins plans to be in boston on june 8, marching alongside his friend and stanford university roommate, u.s. rep joseph kennedy III, at the city's gay pride parade. kennedy, a massachusetts democrat, told the associated press, "i didn't doubt for a second, knowing he was gay, that he would be the one to do it. i've never known him to look for publicity, or to look for the spotlight, but given that no one else would raise their hand, i knew he would do it."
despite hiding his sexuality, collins quietly made a statement for gay rights by wearing number 98 with the celtics and wizards, two of the six teams he's played for in his career. 1998 was the year matthew shepard, a gay, white male student from wyoming, was killed - sparking public outrage & political legislation. the trevor project, a suicide prevention organization, was also founded the same year.
this historic announcement drew widespread praise from family members, friends, current teammates, fellow & former nba players, nba coaches, general managers, other athletes (some of whom are openly gay & lesbian), celebrities, the nba itself, and a sponsor. collins also received support from president barack obama, first lady michelle obama and former president bill clinton.
doc rivers, collins' celtics coach, linked collins to jackie robinson's role when he broke the major league baseball color barrier in 1947 with the brooklyn dodgers. said rivers, "i am extremely happy and proud of jason collins. he's a pro's pro. he is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite team players i have ever coached. if you have learned anything from jackie robinson, it is that teammates are always the first to accept. it will be society who has to learn tolerance."
nfl players brendan ayanbadejo and chris kluwe publicly supported state same-sex marriage amendments during last year's elections. obama, who also supports same-sex marriage, included stonewall - the site of a 1969 rebellion at a gay bar on christopher street in new york city - in his inauguration speech this past january.
same-sex marriage, now legal in nine american states, including washington, d.c., stirred additional controversy during the super bowl. chris culliver, a starting cornerback for the san francisco 49ers, said he wouldn't welcome a gay member on his team. although he was quickly admonished by his team and the league to apologize, which he did, ayanbadejo estimated at least half of the nfl's players would agree with culliver's views, at least privately.
on monday, nfl commissioner roger goodell sent a memo to teams reiterating the league's anti-discrimination policy about sexuality. the policy includes a section on questions teams cannot ask prospective draft picks and free agents. after the nfl combine in february, three players said officials posed questions about sexual orientation.
earlier this month, the nhl and its players' union partnered with the you can play project, an advocacy organization fighting homophobia in sports. nhl commissioner gary bettman said the project underlines "the official policy of the nhl is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands."
washington capitals forward joel ward, one of the few blacks in the sport, weighed in. said ward, "i would say the nhl has been a force to kind of embrace & encourage. what collins did, i think its definitely good for basketball, and the same for hockey, too. its going to be encouraging for more guys to step up and just be open about themselves."
living in the nation's capitol while the u.s. supreme court heard arguments about same-sex marriage had a profound effect on collins. he said, "the strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable. less than three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. here was my chance to be heard, and i couldn't say a thing."
while collins intends to keep playing, several other male athletes, including nba player john amaechi, nfl player esera tuaolo and mlb player billy bean, spoke about being gay - after they retired. amaechi told the ap, "i think he is immensely brave. i think its a shame in this day and age he has to be immensely brave, but he is. he's going to be a remarkable and eloquent spokesperson for what it is to be a decent, authentic human being, never mind just for gay people."
rick welts, president and chief operating officer for the golden state warriors, is gay. said welts, "he probably knows what he signed up for. there'll be a whole bunch more television reporters and cameras than he's probably had in the past. there had been a long bit of speculation about when, who, how. i think that speculation has been put to rest now, and we'll always remember that jason collins was the first man to do this."
female athletes tend to experience more societal acceptance when they publicly admit their sexuality. basketball players nancy lieberman, sheryl swoopes, chamika holdsclaw & britney griner made few ripples when they acknowledged their same-sex relationships. tennis players martina navratilova, billie jean king, amelie mauresmo, lisa raymond & renae stubbs are open about their lesbianism.
navratilova, hall of famer & current analyst on the tennis channel, tweeted on monday, "collins is a brave man. 1981 was the year for me. 2013 is the year for you." ironically, collins told abc's good morning america, navratilova was his role model. he said, "i look at her as one of my heroes. hopefully going forward i can be someone else's role model."
in 1994, four-time olympic diving gold medalist greg luganis revealed he was gay, a year before also admitting he was hiv-positive. canadian swimmer mark tewksbury, six years after winning a gold medal at the 1992 barcelona games, stated he was gay. former olympic skiing gold medalist anja peterson of sweden, after retiring in 2012, said she was in a long-term relationship with a woman. orlando cruz of puerto rico became the first professional boxer to admit he was gay, last october.
in his very candid sports illustrated article, collins wrote, "some people insist they've never met a gay person. but three degrees of jason collins dictates that no nba player can claim that anymore. pro basketball is a family. and pretty much every family i know has a brother, sister or cousin who's gay. in the brotherhood of the nba, i just happen to be the one who's out."
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.