HRC Blog

Out in Sports: Jason Collins and Billie Jean King on Being LGBT Athletes

jason collinsPost submitted by Bo Suh, HRC Digital Media Intern

Last week, tennis legend Billie Jean King and out basketball player Jason Collins sat with The New York Times and opened up on their journeys being out and in sports as well as their personal lives. The two athletes, who came out nearly 30 years apart, mark the shifting environment of LGBT visibility in sports.

Collins made history when he became the NBA player to come out in 2013. Now 36, he is able to live openly and discuss his personal life without hiding his sexuality. He told the Times:

“There were a couple years when I never went on a date. I would stay at home watching TV with my German shepherd, and when people asked what I was doing, I would make up something. So, yeah, I was lonely. Now I don’t have that stress in my life. I’m comfortable and proud of everything I am. I have the choice to stay home, but I have other options, too.”

Unlike Collins, King was not able to come out on her own terms. The tennis icon was outed by a former romantic partner in 1981, two years before her retirement. For her, the experience was far more miserable:

“It was terrible. I lost all my money overnight, paying lawyers. All my endorsements were yanked. And I was really worried about women’s professional tennis, which was just starting, and our fight for equality with men – for equal pay. I was paralyzed.”

But while King’s experiences linger in the past, the future for LGBT visibility in sports is bright. With active, out athletes like Collins and recently drafted Michael Sam playing in major league sports, LGBT athletes and sports fans of all ages have more role models to look up to.

“After I came out, I was anticipating younger people coming to me…But I was at a sporting event and a person a few years older came up to me and told me he was struggling. I wasn’t expecting that,” Collins said.   

Luckily, the disparity between the two athletes’ coming out experiences shows a greater shift toward acceptance, visibility, and representation for LGBT athletes.

“This is what’s so great about now versus the old days. It took me 20 years to get to that place of comfort in my own skin. It wasn’t until I was 51 and had some therapy. Nothing is exactly the same, but there’s a thread of similarity in figuring all this out,” King said. 

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