For the most part, whenever we’ve recapped the saga of Jason Collins coming out as gay as an active NBA player in 2013, we’ve attached words like “historic” and “courageous” to it reflexively — to the point where we’ve almost forgotten to pause and reflect on what those words mean.
So on the 10-year anniversary of Collins revealing his authentic self to the basketball world, it’s important to listen to him tell his story. Doing so helps to remind everyone of precisely why he remains a model of LGBTQ bravery and the understand the universal nature of the obstacles he had to overcome.
Looking back on his career during a wide-ranging interview with Sports Illustrated’s Franz Lidz, Collins gave voice to a major source of the inner turmoil that many LGBTQ people face on their paths to self acceptance.
“Gay athletes are sometimes deeply conflicted,” he observed, “They keep trying to believe the lie that they’re straight, though deep down they know that they are gay.”
For many people in our community, the power of “the lie that they’re straight” can be very difficult to overcome. As long as someone believes the lie, they don’t have to confront the risk that comes with making themselves an “other” or fear being ostracized for who they are.
You can see why these fears would especially play havoc with an LGBTQ athlete’s mind when they have to operate within a team culture and navigate a locker room — particularly when no one in the history of their league has ever come out as an active player.
Complicating matters further for many LGBTQ athletes, the pressures from family or other outside sources make them hold onto this lie even tighter. Collins faced some of these burdens himself as he recalled several family members who discouraged him from making a coming out announcement because “they were from an older generation and didn’t want it to be public.”
No doubt in part because of that kind of influence, Collins remembered that his first few closeted years in the NBA were filled with isolation and loneliness as he continued reinforcing the lie that he was straight.
“For a couple years, I never went on a date,” he confessed, “I’d stay home watching TV with my German shepherd, Shadow, and when people asked what I was doing, I’d make something up.”
During the time he was in the closet, Collins also dated the WNBA’s Carolyn Moos and even briefly got engaged before calling everything off in 2009. “As naive as it sounds, I was under the illusion that I would find the right girl who would make all the confused feelings go away,” he admitted. “It doesn’t work like that.”
These experiences strike a familiar chord with many LGBTQ people, and they underscore the power of the lie. When Collins was surrendering to its influence, spending countless lonely nights and trying to force himself to do straight-people things still seemed more appealing than the possibility of being rejected for living honestly.
That Collins eventually overcame his attachment to the lie and made his triumphant coming out announcement also underscored another important truth. When a closeted person realizes that they actually want to experience the LGBTQ feelings that they’ve been repressing, that’s when they can fully come out on their own terms and live an authentic life.
Collins embraced that desire to be his true self when he made his coming out announcement and showed many people that it was possible to do so as a famous professional athlete.
Our community responded by celebrating him as a role model in the sports industry — and we continue to do so 10 years later.
Overcoming “the lie that they’re straight” is one of the biggest obstacles any LGBTQ person faces during their journey. Jason Collins defeated the lie while living a life in the glare of the public eye and with the pressure that comes with being a barrier breaker in the sports world.
That’s the human story underlying the historic and courageous nature of Collins’ coming out moment. It’s why that remains his greatest triumph.