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Jason Collins was the first male player of any major American pro team to come out as gay

In 2013, Jason collins made history. On top of his storied basketball career, he was the first male player of any major American team sport to come out as gay. Jason was well-known for his leadership on and off the court. That reputation stands strong even after he retired from the league. Today, Jason is a steadfast advocate for the LGBTQ community.

Jason sat down with host Jay Ruderman to talk about coming to terms with his sexuality, his coming out journey, and the roles allies can play.

To learn more about the Jason Collins, click here.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Jason Collins:

That was the last nail in the coffin of, I’m doing this, I’m adding my voice to all the other athletes who are speaking up on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. But there were those family members that I had who said, Jason, do you need to come out publicly? Can you just live your life but know that we know we love you, but you don’t necessarily need to talk about it? And I said to them, that’s not who you raised me to be.

Jay Ruderman:

Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman and welcome to All About Change, a podcast showcasing individuals who leverage the hardships that have been thrown at them to better other people’s lives.

Montage:

I say put mental health first because if you don’t…

Montage:

This generation of America has already had enough.

Montage:

I stand before you, not as an expert, but as a concerned citizen.

Jay Ruderman:

Jason Collins spent 13 years playing in the NBA. During his career on the court, he earned a reputation for being a team player who knew when to step out of the spotlight for the good of his team. But that reputation came at a price.

Jason Collins:

I tried to be the good son, tried to be the people pleaser. What I eventually became was one of those people who was a glue guy, someone on the team who did whatever it took to make sure the team was going in the right direction. And also in real life, sacrificing my own, I’ll call it happiness.

Jay Ruderman:

From a young age, Jason knew he was different, and he knew that to achieve his goals, he’d have to hide his true self.

Jason Collins:

That summer, that was when my Uncle Mark came out and then it was like, oh, that’s what I am. And then also to hear the reaction of some of the family members with his coming out and thinking to myself, is this how they’re going to talk about me?

Jay Ruderman:

Jason publicly came out as gay in 2013, the first active male player in any major American team sport to do so. He realized that to be a truly great leader, he had to be the change he wanted to see on and off the court.

Jason Collins:

How can I help make the path easier for someone else or a family member for their next generation so that they don’t have to struggle?

Jay Ruderman:

Jason took a risk and did something that could have tarnished his reputation on the court, but by speaking out, he learned that what set him apart was actually one of his biggest strengths. So Jason Collins, thank you so much for joining me as my guest on All About Change. I really look forward to our conversation today.

Jason Collins:

Thank you for having me.

Jay Ruderman:

Your childhood growing up, when did you start playing basketball and who introduced you to the sport?

Jason Collins:

My parents grew up in Los Angeles, California suburb the Valley, San Fernando Valley, and I have a twin brother. Our parents were only expecting one child. We were born in the seventies where this could still happen, and I was born first and the nurse said to the doctor, there’s one more in there to my parents. So they go into full panic mode and our parents raising two giant twin babies, were trying to keep us active and out of the house so that we wouldn’t eat up all the food and just go play sports. So we played every single sport growing up and we were first introduced to basketball through one of our neighbors up the street who had a hoop in his driveway. We would go play basketball at his house and then eventually the three of us joined the Granada Hills Recreation Park Basketball League, and that was the first time that we played the sport.

Jay Ruderman:

You both went to a very prestigious high school and a prestigious college. Where did you learn your skills? Where did you hone your skills?

Jason Collins:

Throughout Los Angeles. Everywhere. We wouldn’t be where we are without the support of our family, in particular, our parents driving us all over southern California to play against. And then also as we got older nationally against the best competition. I’ll never forget being 12 years old and going and playing pickup basketball with my dad and against grown men and getting beat up. And it’s one of those life lessons that if you want to improve, you have to play against people who are better than you, who are going to be stronger than you. I tell this to my nieces and nephews all the time. Yes, you’re going to get beat up in that moment, but when you go back to normal playing competition, it’s going to be so much easier because you’re already used to playing against people who are bigger, faster, stronger. With regards to challenging ourselves, it wasn’t just about the athletics. And as you said, we did go to some pretty prestigious schools. Went to Harvard Westlake High School, one of the best high schools in Los Angeles area, and then obviously Stanford University.

I remember being in eighth grade and going to a summer basketball camp and the speaker talked about how because of basketball he was able to travel the world, he was able to get free education. And as I mentioned, we played every single sport up until that point and we went to our parents and said, we want to get a Division one scholarship. That’s our goal. Now, our parents said, that’s great because it was going to be very difficult for them to put us financially through college on their own. But they said, okay, that’s great that you want to earn a Division one scholarship, but put yourself in a position where you can pick and choose what school you want to go to, which means you have to have the talent on the court, but then also you have to have the grades in the classroom and you have to work extremely hard, challenge yourself and know that people are going to use your talent and then you use this sport to put yourself in a position that’ll benefit you for the rest of your life. And that’s what we did.

Jay Ruderman:

So it sounds like your parents were pretty special in raising you guys as well-rounded people and not just focusing on 100% basketball.

Jason Collins:

Definitely.

Jay Ruderman:

When did you decide that you wanted to be professional? Who were you looking up to at the time? Who were your sports heroes?

Jason Collins:

Growing up in Los Angeles with the Showtime Lakers, it’s Magic Johnson Cream, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, it’s Michael Cooper, it’s that team, Pat Riley, the coach, the whole Showtime era. And our parents were able to get season tickets along with another family. So you see AC Green and Byron Scott. So yeah, I grew up around that and seeing those players being able as a 12-year-old to interact with NBA players and yeah, that’s what I want to do. And also our family is big into having goals and long-term goals, short-term goals. So I was just always looking up to Magic Johnson in particular because I was a center, a guy named Hakeem Olajuwon who used to play for the Houston Rocket.

Jay Ruderman:

Sure.

Jason Collins:

And then there was someone else, a professional athlete that I did idolize and look up to, but I never publicly talked about that until after I came out. And that was Martina Navratilova. I was a huge fan of tennis. I have always been, you can see even right now at these wooden tennis rackets here on the wall. But I was looking for someone who was out and still able to kick butt athletically, and that for me was Martina Navratilova.

Soundbite: Interviewer:

Martina Navratilova is a tennis icon and won a record 59 Grand Slam titles. She came out more than 30 years ago in a very different time. Martina, let me start with you. We’ve been long asking the question, when would a man playing a major professional US sport come out and say, I’m gay. We now know the answer to that. So the next question is, what’s the impact?

Soundbite: Martina Navratilova:

Well, I think the impact is immediate because we’re talking about it. It’s an everyday word now. We don’t have to hide. And for Jason, I think it’s going to make a big difference in his life. Of course, it already has, but most of all, he will sleep better at night.

Jay Ruderman:

Jason, at what age did you think that you may be gay?

Jason Collins:

Oh, definitely junior high school, definitely. That was when I started having crushes and feelings that were different than my teammates, especially when you’re around your teammates in the locker room or just you hear your friends talking about the different crushes that they have. And I’m thinking to myself, I have different feelings. And that was in junior high school, so that’s 13, 14, 15. At age 16, I realized what it was because my uncle came out. And for a month out of every summer we would spend time in upstate New York with my dad’s family. And I remember that summer, that was when my Uncle Mark came out, and then it was like, oh, that’s what I am.

And then also to hear the reaction of some of the family members with his coming out and thinking to myself, is this how they’re going to talk about me? I just did not want to accept it. And I know I describe it as telling myself a lie over and over again that yes, I know that the sky is blue, but I just tell myself the sky’s red and just trying to believe a lie, even though I know it’s a lie kind of thing.

Jay Ruderman:

You were a teenager, which is difficult enough.

Jason Collins:

Yes.

Jay Ruderman:

But you’re keeping all of this internal, you’re not sharing your feelings with anyone, even family members. That must have been tough.

Jason Collins:

It was very difficult. And then also in the back of my mind, I’m praying, hoping that it’ll change, that I’ll start developing feelings and like the rest of my friends and teammates have, and I keep trying to date women and see, and that opening up and actually saying the words to another human being, that didn’t happen for me until I was around 32 years old, 32, 33 years old. So it was a very long process of coming to terms and accepting who I am. For me, basketball was always my outlet. It was always the elephant in the room as far as I’ll deal with that later. I’ll deal with that later. I’ll come to terms with that later. Right now I’m just going to focus on my job, focus on my sport, and do everything I can to just, that’s the focus, that’s the priority. And that’s obviously not a healthy way to process what’s going on with my life, but at the same time, it’s how I dealt with it.

Jay Ruderman:

But at the same time, you had a very close family.

Jason Collins:

Yes.

Jay Ruderman:

I’m curious as to the values that you were raised with and what were the perceptions of the LBGTQ+ community when you were growing up?

Jason Collins:

Well, I’ll say thank God for my Uncle Mark because he really took a lot of hits with certain family members. And there are times when members of the community will step forward and it takes some family members some time to adjust, some time to get over their own fear, get over their own prejudices. And also in my family, we grew up very religious as most African American families. The matriarch of our family, my mom’s mom, she came from upstate Louisiana, very rural, met her husband almost out of high school. He served in World War II after the war came back and got his bride and was like, let’s get out of Louisiana and move the family to California. Growing up in the deep South under Jim Crow laws and blatant racial discrimination, they always saw education as a way to climb the social ladder. So that was a part of the reason why through religion and then also through education we were very disciplined, we were very focused.

And then obviously I tried to be the good son, tried to be the people pleaser, try to be the person who I really didn’t set boundaries with my family members. I would always try to be a glue. And I guess that was in basketball. What I eventually became was one of those people who was a glue guy, someone on the team who did whatever it took to make sure the team was going in the right direction and oftentimes sacrificing my game, my whatever. And also in real life, sacrificing my own, I’ll call it happiness.

Jay Ruderman:

I want to bring you back to basketball when you were at Stanford, talk about your time there. What was some of the highlights both on and off the court?

Jason Collins:

The highlights definitely, obviously going to a final four, my freshman year, achieving the number one overall ranking, playing against Duke. So that final four, my freshman year, I had two knee surgeries and I wasn’t able to play, so I had to learn how can I still support the team without playing. Learning how to deal with adversity, overcome injuries, the challenge of am I still going to achieve my goal playing in the NBA after dealing with these, but then also meeting new people. And my roommate just happened to get a perfect score on the SAT, and actually he’s from Boston, Jeff Cooper, but he was one of those people who would go on, of course, to get a PhD, meeting new people who were going to go on and do incredible things. Chelsea Clinton, a classmate, and I remember the first time I met her at a party, I go up and introduce myself and she was just down to earth and I just remember introducing, hi, I’m Jason Collins, and she’s like, oh, hi, I’m Chelsea Clinton. In the back of my mind I’m like, yeah, I know everyone, but just down to earth.

And then becoming friends with her and becoming friends with her parents. And so it wasn’t just about basketball, it was about the friendships that you meet. And then also the classes. The class that I got the most out of was a class called group communication. This class has helped me throughout my life. You walk into a room with about 40 people, you put your books on the side, you sit in a circle and then you say, okay, we’re going to talk in the group setting, but then also have little breakout groups. And in these conversations we’re going to talk about issues that usually divide us as people and see how can we find common threads, whether it’s race, religion, socioeconomic, gender, sexual orientation.

And I learned so much about so many different, and people that might not look like me, might not have the same background as me, but always there’s something that connects us in our humanity, finding those common threads. And throughout my life, throughout my travels, I always try to find common threads, even with some people that I might not get along with our [inaudible 00:15:12]. There has to be something that connects us. When you truly have that understanding and that communication, it just strengthens our bonds in our communities.

Jay Ruderman:

Despite these injuries, you were able to have a 13-year career in the NBA, which is impressive since most of your teammates probably did not go on to the NBA and you played for different teams. But what are you most proud of during your career in the NBA? What stands out as a highlight?

Jason Collins:

Most proud of is definitely coming out publicly and being able to play and make history. But besides that, I think it’s being a good teammate because there are some very talented basketball players. Not everybody is going to be able to shoot the ball, but you have to find a way to help your team win games. And that was my role was, okay, I’m going to set screens, I’m going to dive on the floor, I’m going to hustle, communicate, I’m going to know the game plan, the strategy. I’m going to use my voice out there on the court. I played against so many players who were a far superior athletically, but this is how I beat them. It’s just preparation and using my brain and being in position to take away their strengths and make them beat me.

I didn’t want attention. Obviously attention would come, but especially when I was in the closet, reporters and the casual NBA fan will always flock to whoever the leading scorer is, so I never wanted that media attention, especially when you’re a professional athlete and you’re over age 30 and you’re not married, people are like, what’s going on there? I didn’t want those questions. I was like, okay, how can I help my team win, but without scoring the basketball or not scoring too much? I try not to have regrets, but I wish I didn’t have to do that, but I didn’t feel that I had to do that.

Jay Ruderman:

Yeah. So I wanted to ask you, during those 13 years before the end, what was the culture like in the NBA regarding attitudes towards the LBGTQ+ community?

Jason Collins:

So when I first entered the NBA, it was 2001, our society was different. Then I remember watching an interview, big name player, and he used a homophobic slur in his interview. That was from 2001 to 2007. That was acceptable. Now, the changing point, I think was in around 2008 or 2007, 2008, there was an NBA player, John Amaechi, who came out, and this was the game plan for male athletes, was that you wait a couple years after you retired and then you come out publicly. But I remember when he came out that I started to notice a shift because there was another former NBA player who made some very homophobic comments about John, and he was met with a lot of backlash for making those homophobic comments. So I was like, yes, that’s… And then also the NBA League Office under our former commissioner, David Stern, they started fining people for using homophobic comment. And the minimum fine at that time was 50,000 dollars.

Soundbite: Sports Broadcaster:

Kobe Bryant was recently fined $100,000 for using a gay slur after a referee called a technical foul on him.

Jason Collins:

But when Kobe Bryant was fined for using homophobic language, the message that that sent was that if Kobe can get fined, anybody can get fined. And to Kobe’s credit, he apologized for his comments and what he said, accepted the penalty. And then there were a few other players over time who you have to be consistent with the fine. You have to be consistent with holding people accountable when they mess up, people are going to make mistakes, but there has to be that accountability in the League Office. So when I noticed that, I was like, okay, things are changing kind of thing.

And then also obviously in male sports, even from elementary school to junior high school, high school, you’re taught, okay, especially in contact sports, how can I attack this other male athlete? And a lot of ways that you attack them verbally is by using sexist language and homophobic language. And a lot of times the guys aren’t understanding the impact of those words because some of the people who I heard using homophobic language were some of my biggest supporters. And it’s because there’s a disconnect. A lot of education needs to continue to happen.

Jay Ruderman:

I want to take you to 2013, before you publicly came out, talk about your conversations privately with family and friends, and how did they react to your desire to come out publicly?

Jason Collins:

The private coming out started in 2011, November 2011, Thanksgiving. And the holidays were always the toughest for me because I was surrounded by people who I love, but I didn’t know will they truly love me if I stepped out and said this is who I am. And we also were dealing with the NBA lockout, so I didn’t have my outlet, I didn’t have basketball. So I came out in November, the Saturday after Thanksgiving 2011 to my friend and then came out to family members and then lockout ends. I’m playing for the Atlanta Hawks. After that season is over, so in April, May, I’m starting to come out to other family members, close friends that I have to the point where I signed that off season with the Boston Celtics, 2012. I’m living in Boston, having a great time. I have a lot of friends, especially from Stanford who are now living in the Boston area. I have a great support system.

I got traded in February 2013 to the Washington Wizards and then going to Washington Wizards, to a new city. I got tired of telling the, it’s like going to a new job. Your coworkers ask you, oh, where are you from? Are you married? Are you single? Are you dating anyone? And I just got tired of telling the lie. And at that point, I’d already come out to so many of my, I guess my inner network, my support system. And I never had a doubt or a worry that my secret would get out because that’s the kind of people that I keep in my life is people who truly have my back. Now we’re getting to where, okay, I’m going to come out publicly. I call my agent, Arn Tellem, and I said, Hey, Arn, we got to talk. And I said, ARN, I’m gay. My family and close friends already know, but I am tired of telling this lie and I want to come out publicly. How do we do this?

Do we do this right now? Because at that point, there’s about another month and a half to go in the season playing for a new team, Washington Wizards, or do we wait until the season’s over and then we come out publicly? And Arn, I couldn’t have done this without Arn. He truly was the quarterback of my coming out process. He said, let me think about this. Let me come up with a plan, but I want you to know that I love you and I support you, and we’re going to do this and we’re going to do this right. So that happened in February 2013. And the beginning of March was when DOMA and Prop eight were being argued at the Supreme Court.

And here I was playing for the Washington Wizards. I actually lived in Judiciary Square in DC area, and it killed me to stay quiet. But at that point, we’d already agreed, we reached that I was going to wait until the season was over to come out publicly. But that was the last nail in the coffin of I’m doing this, I’m adding my voice to Billy Jean King, Martina Navratilova, to all the other athletes who were speaking up on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. But there were those family members that I had who said, Jason, do you need to come out publicly? Do you need to disclose this? Can you just live your life but know that we know we love you, but you don’t necessarily need to talk about it? And I said to them, that’s not who you raised me to be. You raised me to be proud of who I am, to celebrate everything that makes me who I am. And I reminded them of an opportunity that was missed when I was in high school.

When I went to high school at Harvard Westlake, one of our famous alums was Sally Ride, the first female American astronaut. And I was on the welcoming committee because I took women’s studies. We didn’t have LGBTQ studies back then, but I took women’s studies and I was one of the few men in the class. And so I got to be on the welcoming committee for her, and I got to meet her and interact. And she gave a great speech about reaching the stars. And it was just… But especially when I was in that time of looking for heroes, LGBTQ people who were out, and I understand that choice of non-disclosure, but there was an opportunity that was missed for me meeting her. And I didn’t want that to repeat that cycle to repeat where I’m interacting with someone and they don’t know that you too can reach your goals and dreams and be out in public because I didn’t find out that she was a lesbian until her obituary.

And a lot of the people didn’t find out until that she was a lesbian until her obituary. And I said, and I reminded my family members, that is not going to be me. So that’s why I’m coming out publicly.

SoundBite: NBA Announcer:

Jason Collins, getting ready to check into this game for Brooklyn at the scorers table.

Soundbite: NBA Broadcaster:

Two shots.

SoundBite: NBA Announcer:

Can begin to hear a little bit of a buzz in the crowd as Collins gets ready. Here it is. You hear the applause. A historic moment at Staple Center as Jason Collins becomes the first openly gay athlete to play in any of this country’s four major professional sports.

Jay Ruderman:

When you came out, it was on the front cover of Sports Illustrated. You were the first athlete in one of the major sports, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB. When did you realize that that was the right thing to do? I know you worked with your agent, but you knew that you were going to be making history.

Jason Collins:

Watching those Supreme Court case. I knew that this was what I was going to do. This was, to those other family members, I was like, this is happening. Get on the bus. We’re doing this. I knew that it was going to be a big story because there was a rumor the summer before that four NFL players were going to come out publicly. And then that never happened. And I knew that I was going to be the first male athlete. Mind you, women have been doing this for… Billy Jean King, Martina Navratilova, and I couldn’t have done what I did without them. So I have to give them their flowers for making the path easier for me. But at the same time, I also remember watching the movie Moneyball with Brad Pitt, and there’s that famous scene where he’s like, the first person through the wall usually gets bloodied.

And I was mentally preparing myself for whatever. I didn’t know obviously what was going to happen, but I had a lot of people who I had those conversations with, who I wanted them to hear it from me first before seeing it on Sports Illustrated. And one of those people to give me some great advice was President Clinton and also Secretary Clinton. Bill, and particularly said to me, and he knows obviously a little bit about being in the eye of the public [inaudible 00:27:48]. He gave me a great piece of advice. He said, Jason, if it ever gets to feel like it’s too much, like it’s too much, what I want you to do is close your eyes, take a deep breath, open your eyes and keep moving forward. It’s a great calming centering thing. But it definitely helped me because on the day that the story came out that Monday, I got back to back calls from Oprah Winfrey and President Barack Obama, just to name a few.

Yeah, it was pretty cool. And there were a lot of things that were offered to me and asked the game plan was, we’re going to keep it in the realm of basketball, sports entertainment. We did our interviews, we were very strategic about who we granted interviews to. Obviously Oprah was with the family, so you don’t say no to Oprah, but as far as everything else, it was usually with ESPN, Disney, somewhere ABC because that’s who the NBA had their contract with. But as far as everything else, I wasn’t going to have a documentary crew following me around or anything like that. It was me training, working hard, being the best possible shape of my life. I was a free agent, and if I got an opportunity to get back into the NBA, whether it be a workout or just an interview, I had to be ready.

And I was training so hard, but in July 2013, when free agency started, and for a veteran big man, someone like me would usually get signed in late August, beginning of September. And to see people who were being signed to teams who I knew that I was better than, that hurt, but also it was like, okay, we’re going to use this as fuel. All of this is out of my control. What I can control is how hard I work, how hard I train, so that when I do and have the faith that I will get one opportunity, I just have to be ready for it. I only got one opportunity, and that was with the Net. And that didn’t happen until February of 2014 where I had a workout with them during All-Star break of 2014.

Jay Ruderman:

So I wanted to ask you, when you came out and the story was published, how did your former teammates respond to you?

Jason Collins:

My former teammates, it was great. One was with Jerry Stackhouse and the other was with Darren Williams, who was a teammate of my brother’s, but great guys who I’ve got to know nothing but words of support. And I thought to myself, again, I didn’t know what to think. But also hearing those two guys and their words of support and their words of, I know how hard you work, how hard you train, I know that you’re a good teammate, and wishing me best of luck with what was about to happen. And then seeing more and more of my former teammates, whether it’s Paul Pierce with the Celtics to Jason Kidd to, and then some of my playing competitors, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant putting out tweets of support. And it was really cool to see my NBA and WNBA family all step up and be there. Not to say that everybody was on board because there’s always going to be those people who “are the haters.”

When I was playing playing for the Celtics at that point, I had come out privately to some family members and to some friends, and I had to pick a jersey number, a new jersey number. I couldn’t pick my normal 34 because I was Paul Pierce. And a lot of the other jersey numbers that I was thinking of there were all retired because there had been so many great Celtic legends. So I started thinking to myself, is there a jersey number where I could hide in plain sight? Is there a number that is significant to the LGBTQ+ community, to me as a gay Black man playing in the NBA? And it was like, okay, the year 1998, I was a sophomore in college, and that was the year that Matthew Shepherd was killed. And then also the year that the Trevor Project was founded. So a year that is significant for our community.

So I chose jersey number 98. So when I got back into the NBA playing for the Brooklyn Nets in 2014, after the game, I was able to meet with Dennis and Judy and Logan Shepherd, Matthew’s parents and his brother just in a small little locker room after the game, I gave them the jersey that I was wearing-

Jay Ruderman:

That’s so cool.

Jason Collins:

… for that game, just getting to know them over the years. And she had some great pieces of… She’s like, Jason, let the haters hate you. Just keep living your life. You thrive. If you feel like you have to respond to every single hater, it can turn into a game of whack-a-mole where you respond to this one over here. Here’s another one popping up over here. And that’s just wasting energy. And especially as you get older, you only have so much energy. And the best revenge honestly, for those haters is youth thriving in life. So with regards to some of the people in the NBA who maybe weren’t supportive, it didn’t matter like that, I have the love and support of my friends and family. I have the acceptance of, hell, Kobe Bryant, you see now, like I just said, Paul Pierce, Jay, the list goes on, my former teammates. And then getting back in the NBA, played for the Brooklyn Nets, flying from one city to another.

I remember I was sitting across from Kevin Garnet, who was the team leader and one of the most outspoken players in the NBA. And I remember him tapping on my shoulder and I took off my headphones and I said, Hey, what’s going on, Ticket? And his nickname was Ticket. And he’s like, Hey, I just want you to know how proud I am of you, and I’m just so happy that this is big, and just I’m glad you’re back in the NBA, I’m glad you’re my teammate. And so for him to go out of his way to say that to me completely put me at ease, because I know that if Kevin Garnet says, I’m cool, nobody can tell me, I dare anyone. You’re not challenging me if I got Kevin Garnet on my side, it’s just not happening.

To those allies out there who might be listening, use your words, create that environment, because you never know. It’s not that I needed that, but it put me totally at ease like, okay, I’m fine now. This is good. So please be verbal with your support, be vocal with your support, with your words and your allyship.

Jay Ruderman:

And I understand that your jersey is now hanging in the Smithsonian.

Jason Collins:

It is.

Jay Ruderman:

Which is so neat.

Jason Collins:

That was cool.

Jay Ruderman:

So Jason, I just have a few more questions for you. First of all, do you think the conversation in sports about LBGTQ+ players has changed in the time since you’ve been out of the NBA?

Jason Collins:

I think it continues to change for more and more female athletes in particular. I remember Elena Delle Donne, a former MVP of the WNBA. I remember she came out right before the 2016 Rio Olympics, and everyone was like, okay, cool. Go win a gold medal. So that’s the response that we’re still working towards because I guarantee you, if a major league baseball player came out tomorrow, there would be a big media thing. But then eventually, I hope that athlete would realize, and also the media that okay, it’ll go back to, which is what it always should be when you’re in professional sports, okay, how’s the team doing? How’s your performance doing? And that’s always going to be there for professional athletes.

And I also say to those male athletes who are thinking about this, obviously you have to have a support system, strong team, but then also the feeling of after your game is over and you’ve just gone out there and bled for your team and going to the family room where everybody else’s significant other is, and seeing your boyfriend there alongside everybody else’s and not feeling like you have to hide that, you just scoop them up, get in the car and go complain about the coach or the refs or something on the way back home. But just that’s how normal that and the energy that it takes to hide and walk around with a filter and feel like that is just you’re wasting energy. It’s negative energy and not having that, especially in that last year, playing with the Brooklyn Nets in 2014 and obviously history making, but I had closer relationships with my coaches, with my teammates to the point where we’re playing against the Miami Heat and on one of the days off, an assistant coach and one of my teammates, we’re going to do a hot yoga session together. We’re doing yoga.

That would never have happen when I was in the closet. But you’re forming more authentic connections with your teammates, with your coaches, with your coworkers, and life is just so much better when you’re having those real connections with people.

Jay Ruderman:

Yeah, that’s great advice. What’s your take on all this wave of anti LGBTQ legislation that’s been in different states coming about?

Jason Collins:

Well, I think it’s not just anti-LGBTQ, it’s almost anti-women, anti-immigrant. And it really is about civil rights. And I remember having a conversation, I got to meet the late great congressman, John Lewis, and he said that the path for civil rights, it’s a marathon. It’s not like when you achieve something and you think, okay, case closed, we’ve achieved this and we can go on to the next thing. And it’s like, no, because just as hard as you’re working to achieve something, there is someone on the other side who is thinking, how can I get that repealed? How can I get that taken away from them? I don’t know what’s in someone’s soul that makes them think that, how can I take away someone else’s civil rights? But there are people like that that exist, let’s not be naive or blind to this, but it’s constant, which is why you need the energy of the youth. But you need those people who have the experience who’ve been there before to also guide them.

And those great leaders like John Lewis who have been there and just having those conversations about how can I help make the path easier for someone else or a family member for their next generation so that they don’t have to struggle or work. And unfortunately, obviously in our country and around the world, we’re seeing a lot of steps going backwards. It is frustrating to see, but also you can’t let it discourage you. You have to know, okay, we’re on the right side of history here, fighting for civil rights. I know, and deep in my soul, me fighting for civil rights, expanding and finding community of like-minded individuals that we’re doing the right thing. So how do we continue to build on this? How we not get discouraged? How do we also organize game plan, goes back to sports, coming up with a plan.

How do we… And the most important thing also, and I’ll say this to the listeners out there, is voting. You have to vote. You have to vote your values and what kind of world you want to live in, what kind of world you see, and I remember when I was campaigning, going around being a surrogate in 2016 for the Hillary Clinton campaign and trying to talk to college students, trying to get them to register to vote. And a lot of them, oh, it doesn’t matter. And it was like there could be as it was, was it three Supreme Court seats that were opened up? So you have to vote. Even if you’re frustrated with one candidate or one party. In which candidate’s world do you want to operate under?

Jay Ruderman:

I think like John Lewis said, it is a marathon and it doesn’t end. Jason, thank you so much for your leadership. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you, and thank you for being my guest on All About Change.

Jason Collins:

Thank you. Appreciate it.

Jay Ruderman:

Jason Collins’ journey highlights the importance of both visibility and representation. Throughout his life he’s worked to find common threads to connect with others. It turns out that our differences as well as what we have in common is what gives our communities their strength. That’s it for today’s episode. Join us two weeks from today for my talk with Animal Advocate, Lee Asher. Today’s episode was produced by Rebecca Chaisson with story editing by Yochai Maital and Mijon Zulu. To check out more episodes or to learn more about the show, visit our website allaboutchangepodcast.com. If you like our show, spread the word, tell a friend or family member, or leave us a review on your favorite podcasting app. We’d really appreciate it. All About Change is produced by the Ruderman Family Foundation in partnership with Pod People. That’s all for now. I’m Jay Ruderman, and we’ll see you next time on All About Change.

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