“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
This is how Jason Collins, then coming off his 12th season in the NBA and facing free agency, took a courageous first step that had never been taken before. In becoming the first active NBA player to ever come out as homosexual, Collins broke new ground and likely hoped he’d potentially open the door for another player and “start the conversation.”
“I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I'm different.’,” Collins wrote in a Sports Illustrated article. “If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand.”
But despite his intentions and the overall positive reaction that came out of his announcement, nobody in the NBA has raised that hand since Collins. And John Amaechi, the first NBA player to ever come out as gay -- though he did so after his playing days were over -- doesn’t think it’s because every player in the league is heterosexual. In fact, he knows that this isn’t the case.
Amaechi told Peter Mendelsohn of SportsNet that he is a psychologist and consultant who works with players identifying as LGBTQ. All-time great Dennis Rodman told Business Insider said that he thinks 10-20% of NBA players and pro athletes are gay, adding fuel to Amaechi’s testimony. Amaechi has also previously said in interviews, such as one with CBS Sports Radio, that there were other players he spoke to that “were perhaps not as amazingly equipped to handle the rigors of this type of media circus as Jason,” and that he’s not sure when those players will be ready. On top of all of this, though he’s hopeful that progress is being made, problems still loom.
“It’s very clear the environment is less worrying from a player-to-player perspective, and more worrying in terms of certain coaches and certain management,” Amaechi said in an interview with Mendelsohn. “If one person wants your talent, they can cap what they pay you. If 10 people want your talent, then there’s a bidding war that happens and you can get paid more, potentially.”
Thus, if certain teams are run by people who couldn’t bear to put an openly gay player out on the court, there’s an obvious disadvantage to their careers. Come out as gay, and options could disappear as potential suitors to your talents. It’s a scary reality that, even if not true for all teams or any teams, would weigh mentally on a player that has to shoulder that concern. Amaechi dealt with this during his playing days, sharing his tales as a closeted NBA player after he first came out (via Chris Sheridan of ESPN).
Staying closeted is another route a player can take, then, but this too has its detrimental effects. According to psychological studies, including those performed at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress in Montreal, people who are openly gay are happier and healthier in many ways than those who stay closeted (via Lindsay Abrams of The Atlantic).
Besides this obvious burden, Amaechi says it can impact how you perform on the court.
““I think there’s a lot of great evidence out there that when you try to protect some part of you psychologically, whether it be your sexuality or something else, you’ve now spent a portion of your energy on that protection,” Amaechi said, and Mendelsohn further explained that such energy, combined with the pressure and the high stakes that come with a role in the NBA, could be the difference between “adequate” and “exemplary” production. Amaechi, for one, says that the reduced pressure of internalizing his sexuality reflected upon his performance.
As June 1 marks the beginning of Pride Month, Amaechi hopes that NBA players will do whatever is best for their own personal growth and well-being. The same fear that Amaechi referred to is the fear that Collins told Yahoo! Sports is responsible for preventing a second player from openly pronouncing their homosexuality. To fight this fear, Collins has kept busy paving the way for more inclusion, working as an NBA community ambassador.