"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."
Those are the first three sentences of this week's Sports Illustrated's cover story, written by Jason Collins, a 34-year-old black NBA center most recently of the Washington Wizards. Collins played four years of basketball at Stanford and was drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th pick of the 2001 NBA draft. He's played for six teams over his 12-year career, scoring over 2,500 points and grabbing over 2,600 rebounds.
In the essay, co-written with the help of SI'sFranz Lidz, Collins talks about when he realized he was "different" from his twin Jarron (a former NBA player), growing up confused and even getting engaged to a woman, and struggling with the timing (his brother didn't know until last year) and the impact that his announcement would have. Go read it all—but here's a part that, just, well:
A college classmate tried to persuade me to come out then and there. But I couldn't yet. My one small gesture of solidarity was to wear jersey number 98 with the Celtics and then the Wizards. The number has great significance to the gay community. One of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes occurred in 1998. Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was kidnapped, tortured, and lashed to a prairie fence. He died five days after he was finally found. That same year the Trevor Project was founded. This amazing organization provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to kids struggling with their sexual identity. Trust me, I know that struggle. I've struggled with some insane logic. When I put on my jersey I was making a statement to myself, my family, and my friends.
The strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable in March, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Less then three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard, and I couldn't say a thing. I didn't want to answer questions and draw attention to myself. Not while I was still playing.
I'm glad I'm coming out in 2013 rather than 2003. The climate has shifted; public opinion has shifted. And yet we still have so much farther to go. Everyone is terrified of the unknown, but most of us don't want to return to a time when minorities were openly discriminated against. I'm impressed with the straight pro athletes who have spoken up so far—Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo. The more people who speak out, the better, gay or straight. It starts with President Obama's mentioning the 1969 Stonewall riots, which launched the gay rights movement, during his second inaugural address. And it extends to the grade-school teacher who encourages her students to accept the things that make us different.
That makes Collins the first openly gay athlete in one of America's big three (basketball, baseball, and football) sports. Recently, American soccer player Robbie Rogers retired and came out at the same time, while Britney Griner, the number-one pick in the WNBA draft and already one of the best women's basketball players of all time, revealed her sexuality in passing in an interview, and no one (in comparison to the Collins news) really seemed to care.
A recent Gallup survey conservatively estimated the number of gay players in the NBA to be 16. Well, now there's at least one. The reaction—outside of online comment sections, which are almost always terrible—has been overwhelmingly positive, with current and former players congratulating Collins. The Wizards, too, released a statement of support. Now, Collins, who is a free agent, just needs to find a team. From a strictly financial/marketing standpoint, that shouldn't be a problem. Sponsors say they're ready, and when asked about it earlier this month, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he'd be honored to have a gay player on his team and, Cuban being Cuban, that "it would be a marketing goldmine for all involved." Whether Collins can still play—that's another question.
Still, here we are: an openly gay athlete on the cover of the sports magazine. Shortly after Collins made his announcement, Rogers tweeted: "I feel a movement coming." Numbers—and progress—hopefully mean he's right.