In an unprecedented move, 12-year NBA Center Jason Collins has come out of the closet on the cover of Sports Illustrated, making him the first openly gay active professional player from one of the “big four” American sports (baseball, basketball, football and hockey).
Sports Illustrated‘s cover calls Collins “The Gay Athlete,” alluding to recent public discussion that gay professional athletes do exist in professional sports, but until now have remained in the closet out of the fear that bigotry might hurt their careers–or threaten their lives. Of course, Collins isn’t the only gay player the NBA has ever had, nor is he the only known gay professional sports athlete. For example, John Ameachi came out in 2007 after retiring from the NBA and NFL players such as Kwame Davis and Wade Davis are now out as well. What makes Collins unique is unlike the other openly gay players, he didn’t wait for retirement to announce it.
In a personal essay, Collins explains his reasons for coming out which include the Boston Marathon bombings, his desire to live honestly and his admiration of a friend who proudly marched in the 2012 Boston Pride Parade. Collins has been in the NBA for 12 years and jokes in the article that there’s a parlor game called “Three Degrees of Jason Collins.” He’s been traded between teams so often that “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.”
Collins has already been praised by many people in the media for his courage, but perhaps his biggest supporter is President Bill Clinton, who called it “an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community.”
Collins is currently a free agent and would like to continue to play basketball. Given that he’s currently unsigned, it will be interesting to see how the NBA responds to Collins’s very public admission. Will it hurt his career, as many closeted athletes fear, or will the publicity help him get signed?
[Photo Credit: Getty Images]