I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.
Those were the words of 12-year National Basketball Association veteran Jason Collins, as they graced the pages of the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. The cover story was posted online on April 29 and sent shockwaves not just through the sports community, but also throughout the world, as Collins became the first American athlete in any of America’s “top 4 sports” – basketball, baseball, football and hockey – to openly come out as gay.Our country needed this to happen and Collins agrees, telling George Stephanopoulos of Good Morning America that he thinks “the country is ready” for a gay athlete. Collins has now become the poster child, as well as a role model, for homosexuals everywhere. The issue of homosexuality continues to pervade our nation’s politics and daily affairs, yet cultural norms have prevented complete acceptance by the American public.
By coming out, Collins has had more of an impact in defying stereotypes than arguably any other gay public figure in the past. Standing seven feet tall and weighing 255 pounds, Collins is a physical specimen known for his physical style of play, strong work ethic and commitment to his team. Collins shatters preconceived notions that homosexuals are weak, afraid of being just as physical as their heterosexual counterparts, a stereotype that he says “people like me are trying to rewrite.”
Collins has opened up a dialogue in this country about homosexuality in sports, an issue that has long been underreported. Gays and basketball, sexual orientation and football, same-sex marriage and baseball, gay rights and hockey — all phrases that one would think never to be related. But now, the issue of homosexuality has permeated the realm of professional sports, and rightfully so.
A Stanford alumnus, Collins is a humble big man, saying he “never set out to be the first” gay athlete in a major sport. He admitted that loyalty to teammates prevented him from coming out during the season, as he did not want to be a distraction to the team. These kinds of attributes exemplify a leader, someone who is ready to initiate change and influence the lives of those around him.
Collins played for the Boston Celtics during the 2012-2013 season and wore jersey number 98, a seemingly inconsequential decision, but one he explains in his Sports Illustrated cover story. He wore the number to pay homage to Matthew Shephard, a gay university student who was brutally tortured and killed in 1998. Shepard’s murder brought the issue of homosexuality to the national stage, just as Collins is doing today.
Former Czech tennis player Martina Navratilova, who came out in 1981, said that Collins’ announcement “is going to save some kids’ lives.”
By coming out, Collins sends a clear message to youth athletes that being gay is okay and that trying to fight being gay because of the world you live in, which he admitted on Good Morning America, will only make it worse.
Although Collins’ announcement is a national victory, we must not forget how much of a personal victory it is for him.
Because, as Collins told Stephanopoulos, “When you finally get to that point of acceptance, there’s nothing more beautiful.”

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