When Jason Collins revealed he was gay seven years ago, it was a historic announcement that seemingly shifted the conversation about homophobia in professional male team sports. The veteran big man was applauded for his courage, with LeBron James and the late Kobe Bryant leading the near-universal public support from NBA stars.
And yet, despite the warm reception Collins received, nobody else has followed his trailblazing footsteps. There is not an active openly gay player in the NBA or any of the other American major male professional leagues: the NFL, MLB and NHL.
It is a puzzling phenomenon, considering there are a plethora of openly LGBTQ athletes across all sports and levels, who we cover on a daily basis at Outsports. But when it comes to professional male team sports, there is still an unmistakable barrier. In a recent interview with Yahoo! Sports, Collins says closeted players remain fearful about making public pronouncements regarding their sexuality, just as he had done in Sports Illustrated.
“There is that fear of stepping forward,” Collins told reporter Henry Bushnell. “I think it’s up to the rest of us to try to create that environment where those closeted athletes out there know that when they do choose to step forward, that they will be supported and championed, and continue to play the sport, continue to evolve, and not feel that they have to hide who they are.”
Since coming out, Collins has worked towards making sports more inclusive for LGBTQ people. He currently works for the NBA as a community ambassador and believes the league is at the forefront of diversity and conclusion. Commissioner Adam Silver marched in the New York Pride Parade, even earning an endorsement from Kevin Durant.
Collins works with LGBTQ athletes across the country, one of whom, former college football player and Greco Roman Wrestler, Akil Patterson, is now running for city council in his native Baltimore. While Collins recognizes there is still a lot of work to be done, he says it’s helpful to be able to point to the litany of star openly gay professional athletes, from Megan Rapinoe to Robbie Rodgers.
“There is that fear,” Collins said. “I hope that they can look at my story, that they can look at Robbie Rodgers’ story, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, whichever story is out there that can inspire you to live your authentic life. I hope that they see that, and know that they can have that, and attain that as well.”
Barriers are broken every day, including in the political sphere, where former South Bend. Ind. mayor Pete Buttigieg recently became the first openly gay candidate in American history to earn presidential primary delegates toward a major party’s nomination process. If an openly gay presidential candidate can thrive in the rough world of politics — even garnering support from some conservative Republicans against homophobic insults — then it seems like only a matter of time before another NBA player comes out. Until then, Collins will keep working to make sports more accessible for all people, one young athlete at a time.