On the cover of the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, debuting May 6, NBA Center Jason Collins pens an emotional open letter where he announces himself to the world as “…the first openly gay athlete.” Read the letter inside…
The first few months of 2013 have definitely been interesting as far as sexuality and disclosure are concerned, as we’ve watched several high profile situations play out on social media…starring African American men. While we watched Magic Johnson’s son EJ openly embrace being “outed” by the media, we’ve also seen the flipside as NFL free agent Kerry Rhodes refuted his “outing” despite a growing amount of “evidence” to suggest the contrary. And we’ve also seen Sen. Kelvin Atkinson of Nevada come “out” during “gay marriage” talks on the floor of the state senate. Now…enter Washington Wizards baller James Collins.
Everyone was tipped of during the midst of the EJ vs. Kerry “outings” that there would be at least four professional athletes coming out over the next few months and surprise surprise…..it’s a “brother” leading the way.
It’s only fitting that at the opening of his emotional letter to SI, James, who’s now a free agent in the NBA, addresses himself first as an athlete, then by his race, and lastly…by his sexual preference. And here in America…you already know which category will be his “lead” for the rest of his life….and he’s fine with that.
In his letter, readers unfamiliar with James will learn a lot about his life, including that he has a twin brother Jarron (who also played in the NBA) and random fact– actor Jason Segal was his backup during their high school days at Harvard-Westlake in Cali
But what’s most interesting is how the Boston Marathon bombing played a role in his decision to live his truth.
He wrote in Sports Illustrated:
I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.
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. 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.
My journey of self-discovery and self-acknowledgement began in my hometown of Los Angeles and has taken me through two state high school championships, the NCAA Final Four and the Elite Eight, and nine playoffs in 12 NBA seasons.
I’ve played for six pro teams and have appeared in two NBA Finals. Ever heard of a parlor game called Three Degrees of Jason Collins? If you’re in the league, and I haven’t been your teammate, I surely have been one of your teammates’ teammates. Or one of your teammates’ teammates’ teammates.
Now I’m a free agent, literally and figuratively. I’ve reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful.
Why am I coming out now? Well, I started thinking about this in 2011 during the NBA player lockout. I’m a creature of routine. When the regular season ends I immediately dedicate myself to getting game ready for the opener of the next campaign in the fall. But the lockout wreaked havoc on my habits and forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want. With the season delayed, I trained and worked out. But I lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided.
The first relative I came out to was my aunt Teri, a superior court judge in San Francisco. Her reaction surprised me. “I’ve known you were gay for years,” she said. From that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin. In her presence I ignored my censor button for the first time. She gave me support. The relief I felt was a sweet release. Imagine you’re in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know — I baked for 33 years.
When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue.
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. 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.”
The NBA Commissioner David Stern and others have already written statements of support. NBA champ Kobe Bryant tweeted today:
Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU
Read the full letter here. Congrats to Jason on not being afraid to be HIM.