The XX Factor

I’d Never Heard of Jason Collins Before Today. Now I’m a Huge Fan.

98 made history when he came out in the pages of Sports Illustrated, becoming the first active, openly gay male athlete in major league sports

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Here’s a confession: I’d never heard of Jason Collins before I read his coming-out statement in Sports Illustrated. He seems like a great guy—smart, likable, in touch with his feelings. Like many gay people, I knew exactly what he was talking about when he wrote of having lived in fear and of being “scared of saying the wrong thing” before his coming out. Still, it’s shocking to think that such a successful guy—a Stanford grad, a 12-year veteran of the NBA, a friend of Kennedys and Clintons—should also be subject to that kind of anxiety. (Then again, I suppose NBA stars and people with friends in high places have TMZ-sized worries that don’t plague us mere mortals.)

Perhaps because he was so open about those worries and concerns, and because he seems like the kind of politically aware person I would enjoy getting to know, I feel much more of a kinship with Collins than I typically have with wealthy pro athletes. As a fan of the Washington Huskies, I never thought I could be positively disposed to a Stanford Cardinal. But Collins is gay like me. He’s my brother.

At 34, Collins is in the final stages of his career, but in the SI piece he stresses that he’s in great shape, physically and mentally, and he’s ready to contribute six hard fouls a night to any NBA team that will have him. As a free agent, he’s currently on the job market, and I hope a front-office bean counter somewhere in the league realizes the business opportunity Collins has just opened up.

I’ve never been to an NBA game, though I’ve twice lived within walking distance of an arena. If someone signs Collins next season, I’ll gladly head down to the Barclays Center and slap down an outrageous sum to cheer on a pioneer—a guy who can take a charge and knows gay history. I’ll even buy a T-shirt.