By Julissa Catalan
In the May 6, 2013, issue ofSports Illustrated, Jason Collins made a ground-breaking announcement:
“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. 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.”
And with that, Jason Collins became the first National Basketball Association player to publicly come out. Collins, a free agent at the time of his announcement, hoped to be picked up by a new team for the upcoming season. Yet with all the media attention that followed, it still took close to a year after the publication of that article for Collins to play for an NBA team again.
Collins signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday and within hours became the first openly gay player in an NBA game, playing for the Nets in a road game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Collins played 11 minutes in the Nets’ 108-102 win, finishing with no points, two rebounds, a steal and five fouls. This was his first game since April 17, 2013, with his prior team, the Washington Wizards.
Collins wore No. 46 against the Lakers, the only jersey the team had available. But he will switch to No. 98 an ode to the year LGBT college student Matthew Shepard was murdered in a hate crimefor the rest of his stay with the Nets.
Prior to becoming a free agent last offseason, the 35-year-old center played for the New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.
Collins could soon be joined in the pro-sports ranks by University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, a prospect who could be the first openly gay player in the National Football League. Sam publicly came out two weeks ago, and in his first press conference since, addressed the media in a calm and poised manner:
“Good afternoon. My name is Michael Sam, and I play football for the University of Missouri. As you may know, Missouri is the ‘Show Me State,’ and I think I’ve
shown you guys enough in the past couple of weeks. But I’m learning about the media, and you guys still want more, so ask your questions, and I’ll answer them the best I can.”
Sam said this while wearing a rainbow button that read, “#STAND WITH SAM.”
After Collins’ signing was announced on Sunday, Michael Sam tweeted:
Michael Sam (@MikeSamFootball) February 23, 2014
Collins and Sam follow Robbie Rogers, who publicly came out in February 2013, then joined the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer three months later. Rogers, like Sam, sent congratulations to Collins via twitter:
Very excited to watch @jasoncollins34 tonight more importantly I am proud to call him my friend.
Robbie Rogers (@robbierogers) February 23, 2014
Jason Collins, Michael Sam and Robbie Rogers have one very important sentiment in common: They all want to be known for their athleticism first and foremost, not for being gay athletes. While it is important for them to represent the LGBT community, these players do not want their sexual orientation to overshadow their performance on the court or field.