How Washington Influenced Jason Collins’s Decision to Come Out

The NBA player Monday became the first active major-league athlete to announce he is gay.

By: Harry Jaffe

Jason Collins’s coming out as the first active, male professional athlete has implications far beyond Washington, but it’s clear that playing for the Wizards in the nation’s capital had an effect on his decision.

“When I was traded to the Wizards,” Collins wrote in his Sports Illustrated essay, “the political significance of coming out sunk in. I was ready to open up to the press, but I had to wait until the season was over.”

And as soon as Collins opened up, the political world followed sounded off.

“I’m proud to call Jason Collins a friend,” Bill Clinton tweeted (one of only eight times he has tweeted), before he issued a full statement.

Chelsea Clinton followed her father and congratulated Collins “for having the strength and courage to be the first openly gay player in the NBA.”

New Hampshire senator Jeanne Shaheen congratulated Collins via Twitter for taking a courageous step “in the movement for LGBT equality.”

And from Nancy Pelosi’s Twitter feed: “Your courage proves why every American deserves our respect no matter who they love.” 

Collins, 34, came to the Wizards this season in a trade with the Boston Celtics. He was a journeyman at that point in his career, having played for five teams since he started his NBA career in 2001. A defensive specialist, he played about ten minutes a game and didn’t score much.

But just being in Washington helped Collins helped affirm his decision to go public with being gay.

“The strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable in March,” he wrote in SI’s May 6 issue, “when the US Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Less than three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future.

“Here was my chance to be heard, and I couldn’t say a thing. I didn’t want to answer questions and draw attention to myself. Not while I was still playing.”

It’s not certain that Collins will be playing for the Wizards next season. He was under a one-year contract, which has ended. He’s a free agent. Teams will not be able to negotiate new contracts until July 1.

Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld released this statement:

“We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career. Those qualities will continue to serve him both as a player and as a positive role model for others of all sexual orientation.”

Should Collins decide not to serve as an NBA backup, he is certain to have plenty of options. A graduate of Stanford, where he was a classmate of Chelsea Clinton, Collins is learned, articulate, and good with his pen, judging from his heartfelt essay in SI. He certainly can have a career in the public arena if not on the hard court.

Politics, perhaps, which could bring him back to Washington.