We’re nearing the five-year anniversary of Jason Collins becoming the first openly gay active player in a major American men’s professional sports league when he made the announcement in an April 2013 Sports Illustrated article, and Collins is waiting for the next basketball player to follow his footsteps.
“I think the NBA is definitely ready for another athlete to step out and live their life,” Collins said during a panel discussion at the Phoenix Suns’ first annual Pride Night, according to Arizona PBS.
The NBA has been at the forefront of LGBT support among major men’s professional sports leagues. (The WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury will host its fifth Pride Night this summer.) Following his announcement, the Brooklyn Nets signed Collins to a one-year veteran minimum contract for the 2013-14 season.
“I was hoping that I was going to get another chance to play in the NBA, that someone would give me an opportunity,” Collins said, via The Arizona Republic. “There was only one team, the Brooklyn Nets.
“I tell that to other athletes. After making an announcement like I did, you might only get one opportunity, and it might not come right away. You just have to continue to have that faith and that belief that it’ll happen. It was very mentally tough.”
Since Collins’ announcement, the NBA and WNBA are the lone major sports leagues to publicly participate in New York City’s Pride March, with commissioner Adam Silver leading a group of 400 NBA employees atop a league-sponsored float last year. The NBA is also home to the first openly gay prominent American sports executive, Golden State Warriors CEO and president Rick Welts, and referee Bill Kennedy revealed he was gay in an interview with Yahoo Sports in December 2015.
Collins mentioned the NBA’s $100,000 fine against Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant for the use of a gay slur toward referee Bennie Adams during an April 2011 game as a “clear [signal] that they supported the LGBT community.” Likewise, Kennedy’s revelation came shortly after the NBA suspended former Sacramento Kings point guard Rajon Rondo for directing a homophobic slur at him.
Collins currently serves as an ambassador for the charitable NBA Cares program and speaks at the league’s Rookie Transition Program annually, warning players about the chilling effects of comments like those from Bryant and Rondo. And while the NBA may be at the forefront of support for LGBT rights among sports leagues, Collins expressed on Tuesday the need for more work ahead.
“People still worry about losing their endorsement deals and being shunned in the locker room. That’s just not the case,” said Collins, via Arizona PBS. Collins remains a Nike-sponsored athlete today and cited U.S. figure skating Olympic bronze medalist Adam Rippon’s endorsements as an example. He referenced the communal support that made his jersey the NBA’s best-selling for a two-week span.
“I love that we were the first sports league to participate in the New York Pride Parade,” he added from Talking Stick Resort Arena. “But we don’t have any active NBA players participating in the parade. I’d like to see someone like Russell Westbrook or Devin Booker standing alongside and being that ally.”
In encouraging other gay athletes to live their truths openly, Collins compared his work in the gay community to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s efforts on behalf of social justice — insomuch as the conversation must be kept afloat and knowing the work is never done.
“You have to be strong and know that good things are going to happen,” he concluded. “I think when we look back on history, Muhammad Ali was shunned, but he was on the right side of history. I knew that I was on the right side of history, and I know that Colin Kaepernick is on the right side of history.”
It’s been five years since Jason Collins announced he was gay. History is still a work in progress.
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