Though he officially came out on Monday, Jason Collins was already making a public statement about his sexuality every time he stepped out onto the court. During the 2012-13 season, Collins wore the number 98 jersey in memory of Matthew Shepard.
Collins explained his decision in Sports Illustrated:
My one small gesture of solidarity was to wear jersey number 98 with the Celtics and then the Wizards. The number has great significance to the gay community. One of the most notorious antigay hate crimes occurred in 1998. Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was kidnapped, tortured and lashed to a prairie fence. He died five days after he was finally found. That same year the Trevor Project was founded. This amazing organization provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to kids struggling with their sexual identity. Trust me, I know that struggle. I’ve struggled with some insane logic. When I put on my jersey I was making a statement to myself, my family and my friends.
Then, speaking with George Stephanopoulous on ABC News, Collins added:
“Each time I put on jersey 98 this past season, I was already sort of having that moment with myself, with my family, with my friends who knew the significance of why I picked that number. Jersey 98 for Matthew Shepherd. That’s why I wore jersey 98.”
According to The Washington Post‘s sports blogger, Dan Steinberg, the Wizards reported that “100 percent of personalized jerseys ordered from their online store yesterday were ‘Collins 98’.”
Matthew’s mother, Judy, was moved to tears and told MSNBC‘s Lawrence O’Donnell that “for Jason to acknowledge Matt’s story and for him to come out at all at this time in his career and his life is really pretty amazing.” Meanwhile, Matthew’s father Dennis noted the amount of hope Collins’ coming out will give to young gay athletes across the country.
“In the past, they’ve had to hide who they are and who they love,” he said, “and this gives them a chance to be themselves and focus on what they should be focused on which is the sport they’re participating in and not focusing half their energy on trying to hide who they are.”