Jason Collins: Out, Proud & Thoroughly (Finally) So
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Being able to handle the truth will set you free.
By Eugene S. Robinson
The following is based on the latest episode of Defining Moments With OZY, which will air on Hulu this month.
I didn’t tell anyone I was gay until 2011. The lockout of 2011 was when I didn’t have basketball. I didn’t have the practice, the games, the travel. That was all gone, so I had to have a different routine.
Yeah, I was telling people that I was going out on dates, but I was at home with my dog. That was the first time I held up a mirror to my life and said, “I want more out of life.”
I had a friend who was a trainer and he was training me and I saw that he did an “It Gets Better” video. So I knew that he was a member of the community. I mean I knew that he was gay, so I knew he would have an open ear.
There were haters out there. Some people sent me death threats.
I reached out to him through email. I came out in the email.
About an hour later, I got a call from a friend who said that the lockout had ended. “Isn’t that great? You’re going to get to go back to work!”
What the hell did I just do? I hit Send on this email? Am I going to see this email on SportsCenter?
I sent it on Saturday. He didn’t get back to me until Tuesday or Wednesday. We ended up meeting in Brentwood and that is the first time I ever said the words out loud: I am gay. And I didn’t know what I was doing!
He said that I needed to start building a support system. I came out to my aunt the next day. My uncle Mark, who is also gay, was one of the other people I told over the summer. They were the only two people who knew for the 2011–12 season. That was when I was playing for the Atlanta Hawks.
When I did come out to my parents, we went to therapy together because there was a lot of stuff that had happened that we needed to talk about. It hurt my mother that her son didn’t come to her first.
You know, part of the reason I chose No. 98 when I was at the Celtics was because it was the year Matthew Shepard was taken from us. I was a sophomore in college in 1998 and I remember thinking about what two people can do when they have hate in their hearts and how they can inflict pain and violence. They murdered him just for being gay.
It was sort of hiding in plain sight, but I was being one with the LGBTQ community.
In 2013, I had enough, though. I told my agent. He said, “Let’s wait until the season is over.” I knew I was still playing well enough to play in the league. I didn’t tell my teammates until I knew the story was going to go public. The Sports Illustrated came out: “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 league American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”
There were haters out there. Some people sent me death threats. But support from the league was overwhelmingly positive. I got back-to-back calls from Oprah and Obama. Obama said, “What you did today will have a positive effect on someone that you might not ever meet in your lifetime. As Americans, that’s what we all should strive for.”
But I didn’t know if I was going to get another gig. Eventually I got one opportunity. One. The New Jersey Nets [the Brooklyn Nets].
One thing that really helped me settle down was a conversation I had with Kevin Garnett. I was teammates with Kevin when I was in Boston. He could get into the NBA Hall of Fame on trash-talking alone. Some of the words he had used in the past were homophobic.
Kevin and I were sitting across from each other and he tapped me on the arm and said, “Jason, I’m glad you’re back in the NBA. I’m glad you’re my teammate. This is going to be huge, for our country, for our sport.” It made me feel like I could breathe.
I was in the NBA 13 years, but I don’t want anyone else to go through what I had to go through as far as waiting 33 years to come out.