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Jason Collins believes that the NBA is ready for an out gay player to “step out and live their life.”
Collins came out in a Sports Illustrated article after his 2012-13 season with the Washington Wizards. Though he has since retired, he remains the only active athlete to come out in any of the four main professional sports leagues.
During a panel at the Phoenix Suns first ever Pride Night earlier this month, Collins said that he thinks that it’s time for another player to come out.
“Before I came out, people who used homophobic language were fined a minimum of $50,000. Kobe Bryant, unfortunately, used that type of language and was fined,” he said. “That signaled to me that if Kobe can get fined, anyone can get fined, and the message was clear that they supported the LGBT community.”
While the NBA has made great strides on its inclusivity, including having a float in New York’s Pride March, players are still reluctant to come out — and some heterosexual players remain reticent to publicly support LGBTQ people.
“I love that we were the first sports league to participate in the New York Pride Parade,” Collins said. “But we don’t have any active NBA players participating in the parade. I’d like to see someone like Russell Westbrook or Devin Booker standing alongside and [be] that ally.”
While he may be the first male professional basketball player to come out, Collins noted that female athletes have been making sports history for much longer than he has.
“Yes I was the first man, but women have been doing this for decades,” Collins said. “When they came out they got death threats and lost sponsorships. I wouldn’t be where I am without women.”
Collins said that despite progress, closeted players still do not feel comfortable coming out on a personal basis.
“People still worry about losing their endorsement deals and being shunned in the locker room,” he said. “That’s just not the case…. There’s opportunities in business for endorsements. We see that with Adam Rippon and other athletes that the Olympics were tapping into.”
He added: “When I went back into the NBA, my jersey was the best-selling jersey in the league for two weeks. There’s a reason why my jersey was number one and LeBron’s wasn’t at that time.”
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