Jason Collins: Breaking through the glass backboard
Even though Jason Collins broke down significant barriers last year when he announced he was the first active NBA player to identify as a gay man, something was still missing. Collins was not on an active roster with any of the 30 NBA teams for most of the summer after his announcement and up until very recently was still not playing in the NBA. This was until the Brooklyn Nets decided to take a chance on the 35-year-old center from Stanford.
Collins’ recent search for employment began shortly after the finale to the 2012-2013 NBA season. Signed to a one-year contract with the Washington Wizards, Collins made his bold announcement to the world in May of last year in an article he wrote for Sports Illustrated. After the Wizards chose not to re-sign Collins, making him a free agent in June, the whirlwind tour began. Working as a public speaker and LGBT activist, Collins served as the primary gay civil rights representative in team sports.
This February, the Brooklyn Nets wanted to change Collins’ current career path and signed him to a ten-day contract. Nets coach Jason Kidd, who had befriended Collins during their time together playing for the New Jersey Nets in the early 2000s, has become a supporter of Collins’ movement and advocated for his acquisition by the Nets. Collins was given the number 46 by the Nets, but everyone who knows Collins’ story knows that will soon change.
Throughout his career Collins has chosen to wear the number 98 in honor of Matthew Shepard. Shepard, a college student, was brutally murdered in 1998 as part of an anti-gay hate crime. Despite wearing the number before he was officially “out,” Collins refers to the number 98 as a statement to himself, his family, and his friends.
The signing of Collins comes at a very crucial moment for the LGBT community in team sports. Michael Sam, a linebacker from the University of Missouri, is attempting to be the first openly gay player in the NFL. Sam, who came out as gay last month, is currently in the process of being examined by NFL teams, but NFL analysts are split on whether they think he will be accepted on a professional football team. Sam has spoken with Collins and both have come out on Twitter and other social media outlets.
As Collins tries to continue his historic run and remain an active player in the NBA, the world will be watching to see the culture of professional team sports changes in front of their eyes. At the end of the day, it will likely be Collins’ ability to play basketball rather than his sexual preference that will determine his future.