NEW YORK—Former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins told the Washington Blade on Tuesday that his sexual orientation is not a factor in the fact he remains unsigned more than six months after coming out.
“There’s a lot of speculation as to why I haven’t signed,” Collins said during an interview that took place as he attended a Manhattan fundraiser for the LGBT advocacy group United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment. “I choose to focus on what I can control and that’s how hard I work out.”
Collins on April 29 became the first male athlete who actively played in a major American professional sports league to come out as gay when Sports Illustrated published his op-ed on its website. The former Wizards center’s interview with the Blade is the first time he has spoken to an LGBT media outlet since he publicly declared his sexual orientation.
CBS News over the summer reported the Detroit Pistons and the Brooklyn Nets passed on signing Collins. The deadline for teams to send their playoff rosters to the NBA is March 1.
“That’s the ultimate deadline,” Collins told the Blade. “But up until that date I’m going to continue to work out, continue to train. I consider myself a free agent and I’m ready when and if an NBA team calls my name.”
Collins has become an increasingly visible LGBT rights advocate since coming out.
He has attended events for the Human Rights Campaign; GLAAD; the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; the Trevor Project and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. He also marched in Boston’s annual Pride parade in June with Massachusetts Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy, III, with whom he lived while they attended Stanford University.
Collins in May headlined a Manhattan fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership Council with First Lady Michelle Obama. He introduced Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at the MTV Video Music Awards in August before they performed their song “Same Love” that advocates for marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Collins spoke with the Blade during the United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment fundraiser that took place hours after he joined retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, South African activist Thandeka “Tumi” Mkhuma, intersex advocate Huda Viloria, Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network and U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic on a United Nations panel that gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts moderated.
The former Wizards center described Navratilova, who came out as a lesbian in 1981, as “one of my heroes.”
Collins said Navratilova e-mailed him after he came out. The two met face-to-face for the first time on Tuesday before the U.N. panel.
“Growing up she was so dominant, such a great role model and an example of someone who lived her life on and off the court,” he said. “[She] exemplified everything as far as being a winner and then also empowers others by just being vocal. I can’t say enough good things about her.”
President Obama, NBA Commissioner David Stern, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, Oprah Winfrey and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray are among those who applauded Collins for coming out. Several of the former Wizards center’s then-D.C. teammates also praised his decision to publicly disclose his sexual orientation.
“I wasn’t expecting a call from the president when I made my announcement,” Collins said. “I was extremely humbled to get a call from him and so many other celebrities, in addition to friends and former teammates, coaches, fans. It’s been really overwhelming the response to my announcement.”