May 1, 2013

“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.

When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue.

I thought April 2013 could not get any better for gay rights and acceptance when Uruguay, New Zealand, and France all passed legislation allowing same-sex marriage in their countries within 2 weeks of each other, becoming the 12th, 13th, and 14th countries to do so. The last time a country reached that milestone was Denmark back in June 2012.

But as the month was ending, Sports Illustrated broke the story on Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran player, coming out as a gay man, the first athlete from any of the four American major league sports (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL) to do so while not yet retiring. It was a watershed moment and what’s best is that the reaction was ovewhelmingly positive, from Collins’ teammates and coaches in basketball, to former president Clinton, and current President Obama.

Collins’ first-person essay, which you should really read, is a well-written account of his struggles being a professional NBA player hiding in the closet. His interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos is also a good read, providing more background the the path that led to where Jason Collins is now.

I hope that this brave step taken by Jason Collins will pave the way for other players to come out or at least make the sports field an even more tolerable place for athletes who have differing sexual orientations. (All four major league sports have started to enact programs to combat homophobia in their sports.) And I also hope that Collins, who becomes a free agent later this year when his contract with the Washington Wizards ends, will get another season playing the sport that he loves as a proud and out gay man.