Prior to Jason Collins making history on Sunday as the NBA’s first active openly gay player, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant stated that his impact will be far greater than what will be anticipated, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports.
“His impact [Sunday night] is greater than what people think,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports before the game. “You look at it from the context of having the first openly gay player. But they missed the domino effect that it has way beyond sports.”
Before Sunday’s contest, Collins had last played in a NBA game last April with the Washington Wizards. The 35-year-old had announced that he was gay following the end of the 2012-13 regular season and had been a free agent until the Nets signed him to a 10-day contract this past Sunday morning.
In his pre-game press conference with the media, Collins had stated that he was focused on getting acclaimed with his new team rather than the history he was making as the league’s first actively gay player.
“Right now I’m focused on trying to learn the plays, trying to learn the coverages of the game plan and assignments. Collins said. “I haven’t had time to think of history. I have to focus on my job tonight.
“That’s life. Sometimes in life something happens and it’s an opportunity. That’s why I work so hard and train. I’m very thankful for this opportunity. Physically, I’m not worried about my conditioning. Again, it goes back to learning the plays and coverages and learning my assignments. That’s the adjustment for me.”
After the game, Collins was happy that he could return to the court in an NBA game and is hopeful that he can help his team earn more wins in the process.
“Conditioning-wise, I felt good,” Collins said. “It was a lot fun to get back out on the court. I set screens, hard fouls. I didn’t take any charges tonight, but that will change. It felt good (to be) back out there out on the court and get my teammates open.
“The most important thing is the team got the win. I don’t care about scoring. I care about my team winning.”
As for Bryant, he feels that Collins will allow for others to follow in his footsteps and not be afraid to be who they are.
On the impact of Collins’ first game, Bryant said, “There is a kid out there who … is going to say, ‘Jason gave me strength in dark moments to be brave. He gave me courage to step up and accept myself for who I am despite what others might be saying or the public pressures. He gave me strength and bravery to be myself.'”
Bryant also stated that Collins’ impact will be made on more than just the gay and sports communities, but also teaching the youth that “it’s OK to be yourself.”
“It’s fantastic. It sets an incredible precedent,” said Bryant, who is currently out of the Lakers’ lineup indefinitely with a knee injury. “I think the most important part about it, what I’ve learned on the issue is that one person coming out is showing this type of courage that gives others that same type of courage.
“It’s dealing with a lot of issues for kids who are afraid to be themselves. Afraid to be themselves because of the peer pressure that comes with it. A lot of these kids have depression issues or they’re being teased from other kids for being different. You wind up seeing a lot of suicides, kids injuring themselves and getting hooked on things that they should not be hooked on.”
After hearing Bryant’s comments, Collins agreed with the 18-year veteran’s point of view on the situation.
“That’s along the same lines of what I would say to every other professional athlete. … Realize that there is support there waiting for you. That’s the only thing I can say about encouraging people to be their true self.”
It is an encouraging sign to not only see fellow NBA players commend Collins for his bravery, but also show their support for him as he embarks through uncharted territory as the first actively openly gay athlete in the four major professional sports in the United States.
This will be a journey that will have plenty of obstacles, but Collins will have the much-needed support from his colleagues and coaches alike.
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