It’s likely that unless you are a big basketball fan, you never heard of Jason Collins before Monday, when he became the first active player in any of the four major American professional sports to announce that he is gay.
Well, it’s likely that you know his name now that in a Sports Illustrated cover story the 34-year-old National Basketball Association veteran proudly proclaimed, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
While several prominent lesbian athletes have been open about their sexual orientation, the locker rooms and showers of Major League Baseball, the National Football League, National Hockey League and NBA teams have been among the last bastions of blatant homophobia, and it has long been wondered what the fate would be of the first athlete in those sports to say he is gay.
As it turns out, when Jason Collins came out of the closet, it turned into a coming-out party.
The 7-foot-tall Stanford alumnus has received overwhelmingly positive responses since the announcement. President Barack Obama called to say he was proud of him. Collins heard from Oprah Winfrey, too.
“It was just your typical day when you speak to the president and Oprah,” he joked to Sports Illustrated. “Truthfully, this whole experience has been humbling and kind of overwhelming.”
In addition to his Twitter following ballooning in one day from 3,500 to almost 85,000, Collins received support from an array of current and former athletes, including Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade and Charles Barkley, along with NBA Commissioner David Stern and former President Bill Clinton.
Collins had kept his secret for a long time, even from his twin brother, Jarron, who is straight, and from former fiancée Carolyn Moos, with whom he had an eight-year relationship. Collins didn’t tell her until shortly before the Sports Illustrated article was published.
“This is all hard to understand,” Moos, who is 6-foot-6 and a former standout basketball player in the Women’s National Basketball Association, told TMZ. “I care about (Jason) tremendously and only want the best for him. I want Jason to be happy for a lifetime and stay true to who he really is, inside and out.”
Jason Collins is a free agent going into next season. He isn’t a great basketball player. Having played for six teams, he would be accurately described as a journeyman.
But his journey has only begun. In a very real way, Jason Collins is Jackie Robinson. He’s Rosa Parks. He’s Amelia Earhart. What is heartwarming and immensely encouraging is that — at least from initial reactions — his journey might not be as arduous as what was encountered by those other brave pioneers.