Coming Out: Jason Collins

May 1, 2013

NBA player Jason Collins recently became the first openly gay athlete in a major American team sport. In this activity, students read some of Collins' coming out statement, discuss it, and then consider their views on the impact coming out can have, both personally and for society.  

To the Teacher

On April 29, 2013, Jason Collins, a professional basketball player in the NBA, came out, becoming the first openly gay athlete in a major American team sport. In this activity, students will read about Collins' decision, discuss it, and then consider their views on the impact coming out can have both personally and on society.   

You may want to review our guidelines for dealing with controversial issues before doing this lesson.  For further exploration of the issue, see our October 2012 lesson Coming Out, in which students consider coming out statements by two other celebrities (Anderson Cooper and Frank Ocean). 

June 2014 update: You may want to consider incorporating Jason Collin's moving 7-minute video for the It Got Better video series. 

 

Objectives

  • Students will be able to define what "coming out" means.
  • Students will better understand the impact coming out has on individuals and society.
  • Students will consider why it's difficult for some people to come out.

 


 

Gathering: Opinion Continuum

Read the following statements and have students put a thumbs-up if they agree, a thumbs-down if they disagree, and a thumbs to the side if they aren't sure, or have mixed feelings.  If time permits, ask a few students to explain their responses.

  • It is understandable that some people hide being gay/LGBT.
  • Gay celebrities and athletes have a responsibility to come out of the closet.
  • If you come out of the closet, it's very likely your family will disown you.
  • If everyone was out of the closet and no one had to hide their sexual orientation, homophobia would disappear.
  • People should never hide any aspect of their identity.
  • It's okay for a person to "out" someone else (expose someone's sexual orientation as LGBT without their permission).
  • You should only come out to people you know will accept you.


Introduction

On April 29, 2013,  Jason Collins, a professional NBA basketball player, "came out."  Ask students:  What does "coming out" mean? 

Define "coming out" as the process in which a person first acknowledges, accepts and appreciates his or her sexual orientation or gender identity and begins to share that with others. 

Why do people sometimes call it "coming out of the closet"? What is the meaning of that metaphor? 
 
Explain that a person who is gay might come come to one individual person, to a group of people, or to the world at large as Jason Collins did. Explain that Jason Collins is the first openly gay male athlete who is still active in a major American team sport. Other gay athletes, including the former NBA center John Amaechi, have waited until retirement to divulge their sexuality publicly.
 

Coming Out Story

Explain that the students will read part of Jason Collins' coming out story (which was published in Sports Illustrated) and then discuss it. 
 
Read the story aloud with the students, giving different students the chance to read.
 

I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.
 
I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, "I'm different." If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand.

My journey of self-discovery and self-acknowledgement began in my hometown of Los Angeles and has taken me through two state high school championships, the NCAA Final Four and the Elite Eight, and nine playoffs in 12 NBA seasons.
 
Now I'm a free agent, literally and figuratively. I've reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful.
 
Why am I coming out now? Well, I started thinking about this in 2011 during the NBA player lockout. I'm a creature of routine. When the regular season ends I immediately dedicate myself to getting game ready for the opener of the next campaign in the fall. But the lockout wreaked havoc on my habits and forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want. With the season delayed, I trained and worked out. But I lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided.
 
The first relative I came out to was my aunt Teri, a superior court judge in San Francisco. Her reaction surprised me. "I've known you were gay for years," she said. From that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin. In her presence I ignored my censor button for the first time. She gave me support. The relief I felt was a sweet release. Imagine you're in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know -- I baked for 33 years.
 
When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue.
 
I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston's 2012 Gay Pride Parade. I'm seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn't even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator. If I'd been questioned, I would have concocted half truths. What a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride. I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, "Me, too."
 
The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn't wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully? When I told Joe a few weeks ago that I was gay, he was grateful that I trusted him. He asked me to join him in 2013. We'll be marching on June 8.

No one wants to live in fear. I've always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don't sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I've endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back.
 
Imagine you're in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know - I baked for 33 years."

 

Discussion

  • How did you feel while reading Jason's story?
  • Do you think this is a big deal?
  • Why do you think Jason Collins decided to come out now?
  • Why do you think other professional athletes have not come out?
  • How do you think the fans will react?
  • Have you heard people talking about his coming out?  What was their reaction?
  • Do you think it's important for people to come out? If so, why?
  • Does it matter whether or not athletes and other celebrities come out? Why or why not?
  • What has changed in the world that makes Jason Collins and other celebrities feel that it is finally safe to come out? 
  • How did those changes come about?


Writing

Make sure everyone has a piece of paper and ask the following question:  "If every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender person were to come out to their friends, relatives, colleagues, and the public (for celebrities), how do you think the world would be different?"  Have students write three ways the world would be different.  Share some of their responses aloud.


Extension activity

Have students conduct a public opinion poll in the school on this issue. (See this poll in Sports Illustrated).  Support students as they create and distribute the poll, compile the results, and publish their findings.