Meet your first openly gay active NBA player: 12-year veteran Jason Collins, whom many of you know from his days with the Nets, Grizzlies, Wolves, Hawks, Celtics and most recently Wizards. In an awesome essay that will appear in this week’s Sports Illustrated, Collins opens up about his sexuality, a decision inspired in part by the Boston Marathon bombings and a desire to be himself. It’s breath-taking stuff.
The entire essay is available now on SI.com, but we can detail a few choice bits here. First, Collins starts by saying why he decided to come out of the closet as a 34-year-old black gay NBA center:
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.
He says that he was inspired by the Boston Marathon to come out now. One of the lessons of an attack like that, for everyone, is that life can end in a moment — so it’s best to live it the way you want to.
The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?
He notes that in his long career, he’s been known as the “pro’s pro,” someone who takes or makes the hard foul. Also, gay does not equal flopping:
I’m not afraid to take on any opponent. I love playing against the best. Though Shaquille O’Neal is a Hall of Famer, I never shirked from the challenge of trying to frustrate the heck out of him. (Note to Shaq: My flopping has nothing to do with being gay.)
He describes the pain of staying apart from teammates, so as to keep his true identity a secret — but he hopes his admission won’t change the locker room dynamic:
By its nature, my double life has kept me from getting close to any of my teammates. Early in my career I worked hard at acting straight, but as I got more comfortable in my straight mask it required less effort. In recent days, though, little has separated “mask on, mask off.” Personally, I don’t like to dwell in someone else’s private life, and I hope players and coaches show me the same respect. When I’m with my team I’m all about working hard and winning games. A good teammate supports you no matter what.
He writes all of this with incredible humor and warmth, most notably in this passage, when he shows how he would, and will, handle intolerance in the league:
I’ll sit down with any player who’s uneasy about my coming out. Being gay is not a choice. This is the tough road and at times the lonely road. Former players like Tim Hardaway, who said “I hate gay people” (and then became a supporter of gay rights), fuel homophobia. Tim is an adult. He’s entitled to his opinion. God bless America. Still, if I’m up against an intolerant player, I’ll set a pretty hard pick on him. And then move on.
There’s really not much more you can say about this besides: Bravo. Incredible. Beautifully done, Jason Collins. We finally have an openly gay player in a major American sport, and it seems we couldn’t have found a better leader for the gay community than you. You broke a barrier today. Thank you.
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