How The NBA’s Rookie Transition Program Aims To Undermine Homophobia

Jason Collins, 2015 NBA Rookies
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When Jason Collins came out as gay in 2013, it produced ripples through the rest of professional sports, but there weren’t any active professional athletes in the big four North American sports who followed suit. After he spent three-quarters of a season playing with a veteran Brooklyn Nets team, Collins retired, and continued to do media requests in his role as the second active professional athlete to come out. Now, he’s helping educate athletes about homosexuality in sports and how locker-room language specifically can often send gay athletes even further into the closet.

That same mission saw Collins lecturing last year’s crop of NBA rookies as part of their transition program, and he’s doing the same thing again this year. He spoke to USA Today‘s Scott Gleason about how he goes about getting their attention, which can be hard when talking to NBA rookies, most of whom have just turned 20 or are still teenagers.

“We try to raise awareness on their locker room language and we talk to them about creating an inclusive environment to get the most out of their teammates,” Collins said. “I sat in their chair as an NBA player with big hopes and dreams. And I’m definitely speaking from personal experience when I point out the words that cut you as a closeted player in a locker room. The key part is opening it up to them so we’re having a conversation about it, not just a presentation.”

Collins isn’t alone in this respect. Chris Herren, the former NBA point guard who battled drug demons throughout his college and professional career, and who has been lecturing at the Rookie Transition Program for a few years now, spoke to Gleeson about this year’s emphasis on avoiding homosexual slurs, the same way players should avoid those aimed at another player’s race.

“If you talk about the pain you felt or caused, it resonates and guys will change,” Herren said. “There is no place for that in 2015, disparaging others’ race or sexual orientation. Programs like this can bridge the gap and shed light on issues that kids don’t normally talk about.”

While the NBA’s rookie program usually centers around four different segments of rookie life: money management, healthy relationships, career transition and continuing education, the public normally only hears about players getting schooled on the possible pitfalls of life on the road as a young man with money.

But while inclusion and a spirit of togetherness might sound like a topic for a high-school assembly, they’re as much a part of adjusting to the NBA as anything, especially if players are experiencing people and cultures for the first time in their young lives. Thankfully, the NBA continues to foster a progressive understanding of all creeds, races and orientations — and they’re lucky enough to have a thoughtful speaker like Collins to lead the way for the new class.

(Via USA Today)