Jason Collins has been holding court in the NFL and in the global spotlight as the first openly gay player in one of North America’s four major sports ever since he signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets last weekend. To make the moment even more special, Collins chose No. 98 as his jersey number to honor the life of Matthew Shepherd, who was killed in 1998 during a hate crime. Recently, Collins shared his moment of glory and his appreciation to the family of Shepherd when he met them for the first time this week.
According to the Huffington Post, Collins met the parents of Shepherd, Dennis and Judy Shepard, as well as his brother, this past Friday, after helping the Nets to score another win against the Denver Nuggets the previous night.
Collins called the meeting one of the “one of those cool treats in life” and he didn’t come empty handed either, He showed up with a basket, a blowout, and a fresh autographed No. 98 jersey.
“I did not want to give them a sweaty jersey, so this is a backup,” he said.
Dennis and Judy, who met Collins in a meeting room beside his team’s locker room, explained that they were overjoyed to have finally met Collins after having spoken to him over the phone after he came out last year.
“It was delightful. We were happy to finally have the opportunity to meet,” said Judy.
“There should be no publicity over this. It should be just an ordinary every day thing, like the military now,” Dennis said. “That’s what we’re hoping for, soon.”
“His career is the most important thing,” Judy Shepard added as they walked away. “That’s it.”
And though it’s clear that Collins has had a major impact on the Shepherds, Collins says that their son’s life had a major impact on him.
“I was in college at the time when he was killed and of course it’s a tragedy what happened and I just hope that it inspires others to move forward,” Collins said, adding that he’s happy about the response people have had about wearing No. 98.
“Obviously, it started off my friends and family knew why I chose that number and it’s just cool to see that so many people support it as evidenced by so many people buying the jersey,” he said.
Clearly, Collins has made the Shepherds proud and we’re proud of Collins for helping to keep Matthew Shepherd’s name alive and for giving others in the LGBT community hope for change. –nicholas robinson