Watching Isaac Humphries’ coming out video was one of the most emotional LGBTQ sports experiences of recent years.
Seated in front of his Melbourne United team-mates — and wiping away tears — the center explained how having come through a suicide attempt, he was determined to “make sure people know you can live and not have to hide”.
Ten months on, Humphries is busy preparing for the upcoming NBL season having returned to his former club, Adelaide 36ers. He remains the only out gay or bi male basketball player in a top-tier professional league anywhere in the world.
Off-court, there is no let-up in his efforts to help those in the closet or who are internalising other mental health issues.
The 25-year-old has signed up as an ambassador for Australian non-profit R U OK?, which has been promoting the power of purposeful conversations for well over a decade.
The charity holds its annual awareness day on the second Thursday in September, close in the 2023 calendar to World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10.
“From what I’ve gone through, I know that asking, ‘are you OK?’, can leave a lasting impact.”— R U OK? (@ruokday) September 11, 2023
Having experienced the power an R U OK? conversation when we was at his lowest, @IsaacHumphries7 is encouraging others to connect and start more meaningful conversations. pic.twitter.com/oScOPJoDiD
Humphries says his past habit of keeping friends and family at a distance, and “shunning them off” when they asked anything too tricky, exacerbated his struggles.
“I went through very dark days and very difficult times in my life coming to terms with my sexuality and my environment, and who I am as an athlete,” he told News.com.au.
“In that story has been my battles with mental health. I attempted to take my life during a very difficult time where I didn’t believe I belonged anywhere.”
It took a therapist’s expertise and the patient listening of a close friend for Humphries to break down the closet door.
“When that question was asked to me, ‘Are you okay?’, it was quite liberating to express that I wasn’t and share that I had been going through a lot of struggles,” he added.
“It felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders, explaining my demons to just one person.”
In a short video released in support of R U OK? Day, the former Atlanta Hawks player shares his advice for how to have a meaningful conversation with someone who may need it the most.
“For me, the three most important factors to consider when having a meaningful conversation are trust, authenticity and the environment you have it in,” says Humphries.
“I encourage you to let the people in your world know that you’re here to really hear, because a conversation can change someone’s life.”
Back in February, Humphries spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend Magazine for an in-depth feature which looked at the build-up and the reaction to his viral moment from a few months prior.
The video had millions of views on social media, was shared by fellow athletes, and messages of goodwill and praise were sent from the likes of his old Kentucky Wildcats team-mates, Sam Kerr, Gus Kenworthy, two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol, and pop icons Ricky Martin and Dannii Minogue (the latter is actually one of Humphries’ close friends).
In his article, journalist Konrad Marshall notes how the Australian player was disappointed by the lack of interest in his story from his pro peers across the Pacific Ocean…
A very specific silence stung... While the NBA issued a public message of solidarity for Humphries’ coming out, guess how many active NBA players showed their support? Zero.
It did not go unnoticed. Humphries would never seek to judge someone for that, but not one American teammate even messaged him privately. That hurt. He has a tattoo on his arm that reads “silence is loud”. It’s a reference to his depression — to sitting quietly at home alone when his mind was all chaos and noise. “In that moment,” he says, “the silence was super loud.”
That is all in the past but going forward, Humphries would like more LGBTQ people in sports to speak out about their experiences.
In his coming out video, he stated his belief that professional athletes have a responsibility to set examples for those around the world who are struggling.
But because he knows full well how daunting that prospect can be, he is encouraging other forms of self-expression too.
Away from basketball, music and singing have been Humphries’ support mechanisms and creative outlets since childhood.
He’s now getting ready to release some of his most personal material as a way to reach more people.
“That’s another way I can share things with the world as I’ve kept a lot of it in for so long. There is lots to come,” he said.
As for the 36ers, their 2023/24 challenge will begin on Sept. 29 with a trip to the Brisbane Bullets followed by a home game against Melbourne United. None of these teams made the NBL Finals last season so will be aiming to make strong starts.
Humphries has international ambitions to fulfil too. He returned to play for the Australia Boomers earlier in the year and helped the national team qualify for the FIBA World Cup but was overlooked for selection for the tournament itself.
That’s somewhat ironic for a man who’s an inch short of being 7 feet tall but as his advocacy for R U OK? demonstrates, being seen on the basketball court is not enough.
“You can’t make a difference sitting at home not sharing your experiences. I did this to be a voice for the voiceless… coming out and being quiet and not doing much was never going to be the plan.”