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LGBT Sports history is richer because of Jason Collins

Retired NBA player Jason Collins remains the only out gay athlete to compete in the regular season in any of the major American sports leagues.

19th Annual HRC National Dinner
Former NBA player Jason Collins attends the 19th Annual HRC National Dinner at Walter E. Washington Convention Center on October 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C..
Photo by Teresa Kroeger/FilmMagic

All month long, Outsports is revisiting key moments in gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer sports history as part of LGBTQ history month. Today, as the NBA begins it 2019-2020 seasons, we look at Jason Collins, who retired from the NBA five years ago next month.

Here’s how co-founder Cyd Zeigler reported it in November 2014.

Jason Collins, the NBA center who came out publicly last year, is retiring as a player from the NBA. Collins played 13 seasons in the league with six franchises including the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics. He began and ended his career with the New Jersey / Brooklyn Nets.

The move doesn’t come as a surprise. Collins logged limited minutes playing half of last season with the Nets. He has spent much of the offseason engaged in public speaking and advancing the cause of LGBT athletes. Collins also gave Outsports a heads up that this was happening about a month ago. He seemed content, almost excited, with the move and forging a new direction for the second stage of his adult life.

Make no mistake: Collins has had a powerful impact on the sports world. You can take Derrick Gordon as a prime example. Last winter and spring, Gordon watched Collins be welcomed by the Nets and play in NBA games. There was no backlash. Collins said he only heard one negative thing from one opponent.

This week, Gordon has helped lead his UMass basketball team to three wins to start the season. His free throw percentage hovers around 90%; Last year it was closer to 50%. That change, Gordon said, is a direct result of him coming out.

Gordon’s coming out was a direct result of Collins’ big move last year.

That’s not all.

Because of Collins, the NBA donated $100k+ to GLSEN and the Matthew Shepard Foundation. These two key LGBT organizations got much-needed funds to help struggling youth.

Because of Collins, at least 187 professional athletes talked about issues surrounding gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes. No straight person can generate that kind of conversation about our issues the way LGBT people themselves do when they simply come out.

When Collins decided to march in the 2013 Boston Pride Parade, he chose a Nike #BETRUE T-shirt to wear. That helped jumpstart awareness and sales of the empowerment campaign that resulted in a $200k donation by Nike to the LGBT Sports Coalition.

The repercussions of Jason Collins will be felt in the sports world for years to come.

Collins has also become a powerful spokesperson, engaging multi-billion-dollar corporations, politicians from Congress to the White House and sports leagues across the country.

In his column for Sports Illustrated talking about his decision, Collins nails why all of the people who reply to our coming out stories with “no one cares” are so desperately wrong:

There are still no publicly gay players in the NFL, NHL or major league baseball. Believe me: They exist. Every pro sport has them. I know some of them personally. When we get to the point where a gay pro athlete is no longer forced to live in fear that he’ll be shunned by teammates or outed by tabloids, when we get to the point where he plays while his significant other waits in the family room, when we get to the point where he’s not compelled to hide his true self and is able to live an authentic life, then coming out won’t be such a big deal. But we’re not there yet.

Thank you, Jason, for helping to start and continue conversations and knock down the walls of homophobia in sports. We look forward to supporting you in your next phase!

Tomorrow — and every day in October — we’ll look back at another moment in LGBTQ sports history.