The words “LGBT” and “SPORTS” have never gotten along. Gay athletes on professional teams remained more closeted than coat hangers in the history of modern sporting events, until Jason Collins came out in 2013. One of the boldest plays in any sporting event wasn’t actually on the field, courts, or ring. Jason Collins, a professional basketball player for the New Jersey Nets and Brooklyn Nets, made international headlines when he publicly announced he was gay in 2013 (via Sports Illustrated) while he was still an athlete for one of the four major North American sport teams. The historic moment made him a household name, and he has since helped other athletes (from professional to high school) comfortably come out of the closet. Now retired, Jason has been a major influence in the sporting and LGBT communities, has graced the cover of Time magazine, and speaks at events around the world. His coming out was whole-heartedly embraced, and that’s nothing but net. Jason Collins joined us in the VIP Lounge to talk basketball, travel, and the White House.
What was it like being one of the first professional athletes to come out to the world in 2013?
I reached a point in my life when I was ready to come out. I told members of my family starting in 2011. Most of my friends and family knew the following year in 2012. I figured I already had the love and support of the people who mattered the most to me so why not tell the public. The process of coming out was coordinated by my agent at the time, Arn Tellem. He was the quarterback who helped come up with a plan for me tell my story with dignity and respect while giving me a chance to continue playing in the NBA. I owe a lot to him, and I am very grateful for his continued friendship and support. After the Sports Illustrated article came out, my life became very surreal at times. Getting phone calls from President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, etc.
There are so many athletes now pronouncing their sexuality freely, mostly because you served as an inspiration. Do you personally know any and did they come to you for advice?
Yes, I’ve met several people (athletes and nonathletes) who have come up to me and said that my story inspired them to come out. Recently a friend of mine got married to his husband, and during the toasts at their wedding he grabbed the microphone and thanked everyone for coming and singled me out. He spoke about how my story helped him come out and a couple years later here he is getting married to the love of his life. It’s a really cool moment to realize that by your actions you can have a positive impact on someone else’s life.
You were at the White House very often while President Obama was in office. Why is that?
As a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, I worked with First Lady Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move initiative a lot. I’ve been fortunate to meet, develop, and maintain relationships with some amazing people who do some great work for our country.
You’re constantly on the road. Where are some of your favorite places to travel?
Wow…I love to travel! I guess if I had to choose, then I would lean heavily to any place tropical. If there’s a beach, warm weather, a nice view, tropical cocktails, and a tennis court nearby then I’m very happy. I’ve turned into a tennis player over the past few years, and I really enjoy playing any chance I get. My absolute favorite place to visit is the One & Only in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It’s either that or the Four Seasons in Punta Mita, Mexico. I speak a little Spanish so I feel comfortable getting some practice speaking the language, and it’s a relatively quick flight from my home in Los Angeles.
Speaking of travel, you were the face of Marriott a couple of years ago in a national ad campaign. What was that like?
Yes, in June 2014 I was part of Marriott’s #LoveTravels campaign. This was the first major ad campaign that I took part in after coming out publicly. I endorsed #LoveTravels because it really spoke to my heart…I love to travel and I want others to feel 100% welcome and be their authentic selves whenever and wherever they travel. Additionally I was a huge fan of the photographer for the project, Braden Summers. He did a previous project called “All Love is Equal’ which is absolutely beautiful. I love supporting companies that help create an environment in our society of inclusion and acceptance.
Did I see on Twitter that you were at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio?
Yes, I was asked to be on the presidential delegation for the Closing Ceremony. It was an absolute honor to join so many distinguished people representing the president and our country at the Olympics. We went to the men’s and women’s gold medal basketball games and saw Team USA win the gold; we went to the last night of track and field and saw members of Team USA win the 1,500-meter, the men’s and women’s 4×400-meter relays, and a former member of our US military won silver in the 5,000meters. We met with Team USA athletes who served in our military at USA House in Rio. USA House was at a school in Ipanema that Team USA temporarily took over and turned into something that looks like a Soho House with TVs. They remodeled the entire school’s building by upgrading the electricity, painting every single room, and restoring a rooftop deck. I wish I could have seen the look on the kids’ faces when they came back to school and saw all the improvements made.
What can we expect from Jason Collins in 2017?
I will continue my work with the NBA as a NBA Cares Ambassador, and I will continue to travel around the world sharing stories with people and having conversations that will hopefully empower someone to step forward and live their authentic life, and/or lead a person to become a strong ally for equality and acceptance.