It’s been three years since Jason Collins made the historic decision to come out of the closet and become the NBA’s first openly gay active player to reveal his sexuality to the world. Afterwards, many fans assumed that there would be other closeted athletes in the elite class of sports that would walk through the closet doors, as well. However, since that time only NFL hopeful Michael Sam has come out of the closet and Collins has retired and focused his energy on remaining a sports LGBT advocate. Although little has changed in regards to pro athletes coming out, Collins recently spoke about the matters, as well as the less talked about issue of LGBT sports fans feeling safe enough to come out to sports events.
According to media reports, a recent study conducted by the Bingham Cup, Penn State, the University of Massachusetts and several other colleges in the U.S., Australia and Canada showed that 83% of Americans don’t think that an openly LGBT person is as safe at a sports event as their heterosexual counterparts.
Collins recently spoke about the issue at The Economist’s event Pride and Prejudice: The Cost of LGBT Discrimination and explained that the issue is larger and more complex than people assume. For instance, he shared that there are more closeted LGBT players of color in pro sports than anyone knows.
“I talk to a lot of athletes, playing either pro or at the collegiate level who haven’t come out yet,” Collins said. “Now there’s an out referee in the NBA, [Bill Kennedy] who is African American. It’s great when you see more and more people step forward to live their authentic lives.”
For Collins, he feels that, regardless of race, part of the issue of both LGBT fans and athletes remaining hesitant to come out or show up to events is that often times homophobic and transphobic language is thrown around freely at sporting events, something which Kennedy dealt with late last year when Rajon Rondo hurled a homophobic slur at him on the court.
According to Collins, such language needs to be challenged and corrected now in order to make sports a safe zone for LGBT fans and players alike.
“If you see something, you have to say something,” said Collins, adding that, “Try to come to an understanding of why a person uses inappropriate words, and explain to them how that word can have an impact on someone who is LGBTQ.”
Clearly, there’s a lot more to be done and said about the issue of homophobia and transphobia in sports, but it’s good to see that sports stars like Collins are trying to push for change in pro sports.