Current NBA and former Wolverine basketball player Jason Collins ’97 became the first active openly gay male athlete in a major sport after announcing his homosexuality on the Sports Illustrated’s website April 29 and in the May print edition of the magazine. Collins’s breaking of the barrier for gays in sports has since sparked a national media frenzy, as Collins has made appearances on multiple national media outlets. In the midst of the frenzy, Collins also talked about his experiences in an interview with Sports Section Head Grant Nussbaum.
How different do you think things would have been for you had you come out when you attended high school?
My senior year in high school was 1997. The country has changed a lot since then. In fact, the country has changed a lot in the last five years. A lot of it – especially with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” being introduced in the ’90s, and then being repealed by President Obama, and some the states in this country recognizing gay marriage and marriage equality – wasn’t the case in 1997. Slowly, more and more people are coming to that point of acceptance and tolerance and understanding. It was time for me in my private life, and it was time for this country. Because of the people who came before me, whether it be Dave Kopay in football, John Amaechi in basketball, Martina Navratilova in tennis, Robbie Rogers in soccer, Brittney Griner, and so on. Each person who steps forward continues that conversation and fosters that culture of acceptance and tolerance. That’s important for equality.
What was it like for you to muster up the courage to come out on such huge stage?
For me, I haven’t really looked at it as courage. I looked at it as something that needed to be done. I’ve always been a “lead by example” kind of guy. If something needs to be said, I’ll say it. Something needs to be done, I’ll be that guy that shows you that example, I’ll walk the walk. I had reached that point in my private life. My family already knew, my friends already knew. Once you get a taste of what life is like when you take off that mask, it gets tougher and tougher to put that mask back on. I needed to be genuine.
Since coming out, you’ve been referred to as the “Jackie Robinson” of gay players in professional sports. Do you see yourself as that figure? What’s it like for you to get those comparisons?
I don’t even want to compare what I did to Jackie Robinson – what Jackie Robinson did, it was monumental. All I wanted to do was live an honest, genuine life. Others are going to say what they want to say, but to me it all comes down to living an honest, genuine life.
The full interview with Collins will be published later this month in the next issue of the Big Red sports magazine.