Jason Collins is a retired NBA star who became the first active male athlete in any of the four major American professional leagues to publicly announce he was gay in a Sports Illustrated cover story following the 2012-13 NBA season.
Now serving as an NBA Global Ambassador and diversity advocate, Jason will be visiting with the Connecticut Sun this week. He will take part in a community relations event on Friday, and will serve as the halftime speaker when the Sun celebrate Pride Night on Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena against the Atlanta Dream.
As he prepared for his trip to Connecticut, Collins took a few minutes to talk about his visit.
Why do you think events like Pride Night are so important?
“Because it’s great to embrace all of your community and celebrate all that makes your community so special and diverse. So it’s really cool to see, in the sports world, organizations celebrating the diversity of all of their sports fans and encouraging people to live their authentic lives and be comfortable. When you’re cheering on your Connecticut Sun, the Connecticut Sun is cheering you on as well.”
Is there one thing in particular you try to convey when you speak to kids?
“I know what it is like to be afraid to live your authentic life. I know what it is like to not bring your entire self to your job. You are around your teammates so much, that they almost become family members and to not bring one hundred percent of yourself, and live with that stress and that fear, and then now, being able to live my authentic life and bring one hundred percent of me, I want people to enjoy that feeling. I want them to know that it’s okay. It’s great to be your true self and know that people will celebrate you and accept you for who you are.”
How do you find the message is received?
“Pride is all about having a good time. There is nothing better than going up to a kid and saying, ‘What makes you happy about you? Celebrate you. We’re here to celebrate you and celebrate all that makes you unique. Be unique. Be who you want to be.’ And I think kids really (get) that message. Be who you want to be. Be who you are. I’ve been to many Pride events and at every single one, people have a smile on their face and are enjoying life and enjoying each other. You are celebrating the person to your left and to your right. It’s a lot of fun.”
Do you sense a lot has changed since you made your announcement?
“In some ways some things have changed and in other ways they haven’t. Outside of Robbie Rogers in Major League Soccer, there aren’t any other openly gay male professional athletes. So we do need to continue to work because I know that there are some. So we need to continue to create that environment where they feel it is safe to step forward and do their job and live their authentic life. It is great to see – as it happens so frequently in our society – that women take the lead. There are so many great strong women who continue to step forward and live their authentic lives. Whether it’s just recently, Diana Taurasi getting married, or last year with Elena Delle Donne announcing her engagement. When I was a little kid, I used to look up to Martina Navratilova, so women have been doing this for decades. I am a huge fan of Martina and all the people who have stepped forward and lived their authentic lives.”
As a former NBA player, what are your thoughts about the WNBA and how it has grown?
“I love the WNBA. I have been to many WNBA games. I have two nieces who are 8 and 6 and we will put on WBNA games. I want my nieces to be strong young women and I want them to look up to WNBA players and they do. They’re learning basketball, and it is a lot easier for someone who is a student of the game – and I consider myself to be a student of the game – to show them play sets to show them players in the WNBA game versus the NBA game. In the NBA game, there is incredible athleticism. But as a little kid, you’re not going to have that. So you have to learn the fundamentals of the game and you can see that (in the WNBA). Heck, I would put a WNBA player on the free throw line ahead of most NBA players. Just to see the play sets and teamwork…they don’t have the athleticism that you have a forty-inch vertical leap. At the same time, you do have those players like a Brittany Griner, who if she drop steps and her momentum is right, she can drop step dunk on you. It goes back to being a student of the game. These ladies have skills. It’s fun to watch. Basketball is basketball. If you can play you can play, and these ladies can play.
Any message for Sun fans on Saturday?
“Come out to the game. C’mon out and watch some great basketball and enjoy all the great activities and the pool party. If you’re in the area, come on out.”
Pride Night: Saturday, June 10th vs. the Atlanta Dream, 7 PM | GET TICKETS