A little over a year ago, NBA star Jason Collins officially came out of the closet. Since then, a flurry of athletes on the collegiate level have followed suit, including Michael Sam and UMass point guard Derrick Gordon.
While some may feel that Jason Collins' decision to reveal his sexual preference has been overblown in the media, one thing's for sure: his decision has inspired others to do the same, changing the perception of gay athletes in pro sports. There would be no Michael Sam and certainly no Derrick Gordon if Collins hadn't paved the way for these athletes to do so by carrying the burden of being the first.
In an interview with ESPN recently Gordon sited Jason's coming out as having directly inspired him to reveal his sexuality to the public at large: "That was so important to me, knowing that sexuality didn't matter, that the NBA was OK with it," Gordon said. He elaborated further about the need to stop hiding who he was:
"I just didn't want to hide anymore, in any way. I didn't want to have to lie or sneak. I've been waiting and watching for the last few months, wondering when a Division I player would come out, and finally I just said, 'Why not me?'"
When Gordon came out, Jason Collins immediately tweeted his congratulations to Gordon:
— Jason Collins (@jasoncollins34) April 9, 2014
Also lending words of encouragement was Michael Sam, the first college football player (and soon to be NFL prospect) to come out to the public:
— Michael Sam (@MikeSamFootball) April 9, 2014
This network of open support wouldn't be possible without Collins taking the plunge in April 2013. At the time, many felt there may be ulterior motives behind Jason's announcement that he was gay. An aging superstar, his skills were not necessarily at their peak and many wondered if he did it merely for the attention. Those thoughts were erased after the Brooklyn Nets finally signed Collins to a ten day contract.
Michael Sam then followed suit a few months later and now Derrick Gordon is the next major athlete to do the same. And it all started with Jason Collins, who will forever be recognized for having the courage to be the first.