By Percy Allen / Seattle Times staff reporter
Since coming out three months ago, Jason Collins is receiving more attention than he ever has during his 12-year journeyman NBA career.
Recently he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and appeared on the “Today Show.” And last week he shared the stage at MTV’s Video Music Awards with Seattle rap artists Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
However, Collins told a gathering at the A Plus Principles to Live By gala Wednesday that he wasn’t seeking fame or publicity.
“When you’re in the closet you’re telling yourself a lie day in and day out to the point that you start to believe it, but deep down you know it’s not true,” he said. “Once I told my family and my friends – I was one of the lucky ones and everyone supported me – it became a no-brainer as far as it’s time.
“It’s time for me. … It’s time for someone to step forward.”
Collins was the keynote speaker at the downtown fundraiser, which included former NFL player Wade Davis and photojournalist Robin Layton, who also spoke about being gay.
“Just to be free to exist in the world as my authentic self is something that I had never experienced,” said Wade, an undrafted cornerback out of Weber State in 2000 who had stints with the NFL’s Seahawks (2001), Tennessee Titans (2000 and ’02) and Washington Redskins (2003).
Wade, who never made it on a 53-man roster, announced he was gay last year, nine years after he retired. He laughed Wednesday when recounting the things he did to keep his sexuality private.
“I remember watching film when I was playing for the Redskins and thinking, ‘wow you’re running gay, or your standing gay,’” he said. “Imagine policing yourself to the point of every action and everything that you do, you’re scrutinizing it.
“It was harder for me to exist in the closet than it was to come out.”
Wade admitted he couldn’t have come out while he was playing and described Collins as a “pioneer who’s doing things right now that’s blazing a path for others to follow.”
Last month, WWE star Darren Young said he was inspired by Collins to announce that he was gay.
Former NBA player John Amaechi, who announced he was gay in 2007, four years after his retirement, told Collins his life would change if he came out.
“He said, ‘Jason going forward, people aren’t going to recognize you as the pro’s pro,’” Collins recalled. “’Your teammates and the people who truly know you will, but to the rest of the world you’re going to be the gay athlete.
“And you have to have strength. Find a way to embrace that identity, but at the same time that identity doesn’t define you.’”
Collins told the audience that included NBA player Jamal Crawford and A Plus’ student-athletes about the traits he used to rise from a Los Angeles prep school and become a star at Stanford who was taken 18th overall in the 2001 draft.
Telling his parents about his sexuality was one of the most difficult things Collins ever had to do.
“My mom refers to it as letting go of the dream,” he said.
Collins also talked about the unexpected benefits to coming out.
“The coolest thing … it’s when I got the call from President Obama,” he said, laughing. “Now I get to tell all of my gay friends: ‘When you came out, did you get the call from the President too?’”
Still with training camps opening next month, Collins is waiting for a call from NBA executives.
The 7-foot free agent played in just 38 games last season while playing with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards. He averaged 1.6 rebounds and 1.1 points.
Admittedly, Collins has never been a superstar in the NBA and never averaged more than 6.4 points and 6.1 rebounds during a season.
“I’ve always had that reputation of being a pro’s pro, a great locker room guy and a great teammate,” Collins said. “That’s an identity that I formed and that’s an identity that I worked for and I’m so proud of.
“I don’t care if I score a single basket. I care about winning basketball games. There’s no better feeling for me than playing with a great player like Jamal and setting a great pick like blindsiding whoever is guarding him. Knocking him on his butt so Jamal can go out there and score baskets. That’s what I’ve done my whole career and that’s what I hope to continue to do in this upcoming season.”
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