Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA player is now working with the sports league to help out a few special charities. Collins, who’s had a lengthy career as a professional ball player since 2001, has always worn the number 98 on his jersey, representing the year Matthew Shepard was viciously killed in an anti-gay attack. Many may remember the story of Shepard from the play and film entitled The Laramie Project. Now, since his “coming out”, Collin’s high-selling jersey has become a vehicle for over $100,000 in donations for two gay rights foundations.
This past Thursday, after defeating the Denver Nuggets, a small dream came true for Jason Collins as he was able to meet with Matthew Shepard’s family, and present them with one of his jerseys. Shepard’s parents have become very active in the gay rights crusade, advocating for legislation and showing support for various tolerance programs. On the heels of Collins’ meeting with the family, the NBA has agreed to donate thousands in proceeds from the sale of Collins jersey to both the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
At age 35, Jason Collins already has much of his career behind him. In a sense it’s actually come full circle, starting with the New Jersey Nets in 2001 and now signing up with the Nets once again –only this time they are a Brooklyn-based team. However, until recently, the public had no knowledge of Jason’s true sexuality. It was at the end of last season, and prior to his new contract with the Nets, that Collins came out as gay.
Collins is “thrilled” to be working with the NBA in a show of support for the LGBT community. As the No. 98 jerseys become more and more popular, Collins hints it will be worn “with pride”. The jersey, itself, is now fast becoming a symbol for gay rights as well as a show of respect for the player. Commissioner Adam Silver recently showed his support by alluding to the delight with which the “NBA family” nurtures a tolerant and supportive environment for players like Collins.
Upon revealing his sexual orientation last April, Collins has become somewhat of celebrity and symbol for the gay community. The support has been unprecedented, having received invites from the First Lady to join her at political events. However, Jason’s “coming out” is not completely unique to sports right now. Other athletes such as football’s Michael Sams and soccer player Robbie Rogers, have also disclosed their homosexuality.
Since Jason Collins has reunited with the Nets, his No. 98 jersey has soared in sales, bringing in tons of money for the NBA. According to the league, the amount of money donated to the foundations is sure to exceed $100,000. Moreover, the NBA will auction off the player’s game worn jersey’s that have been autographed by the man, himself. Profits from those sales will also go towards donations.
By Josh Taub