NBA center Jason Collins has become the first athlete in a major American team sport to come out as gay during his playing career. In a personal essay set to publish in Sports Illustrated, Collins begins, “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 American team sport,” he continues. “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.”
Previously, Collins wore No. 98 in honor of Matthew Shepard, a student at Wyoming who was tortured and murdered just outside of Laramie, Wyo., in October of 1998. During the trial, reports indicated that Sheppard was targeted because he was a gay man.
At the time he chose to wear the number, it was believed that Collins chose 98 because he played his freshman season at Stanford in 1998. Collins later said he wore the number to give NBA referees trouble, as they have to use their fingers to report fouls. Statements of support were issued from NBA commissioner David Stern and Nike, the only company with which Collins currently has an endorsement.
“As Adam Silver and I said to Jason, we have known the Collins family since Jason and Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family,” Stern said in a statement. “Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.”
Nike showed similar support of Collins’ decision to come out. “Jason (Collins) is a Nike athlete. We are a company committed to diversity and inclusion,” the statement read.