To kick off its diversity and inclusion celebration weekend, the Chicago Sky and retired NBA player Jason Collins hosted a meet-and-greet panel July 6 at Midtown Athletic Club. Collins and Chicago Sky's starting center Imani Boyette spoke at the "Facing Adversity Through Sports" panel, with retired NBA player Stephen Bardo moderating.
Collins holds the distinction of being the first active male professional athlete in basketball, baseball, football or hockey to come out as gay in the United States. He made this announcement in Sports Illustrated when the 2012-2013 NBA season ended. Collins currently serves as an NBA global ambassador and diversity advocate.
Boyette made headlines earlier this year when she wrote an open letter on her website to retired WNBA player Candice Wiggins refuting Wiggins' claim that 98 percent of WNBA players are lesbians. In her letter, Boyette said Wiggins "reinforced unfair stereotypes" about women in sports with her comments. Wiggins also said WNBA culture is "toxic" and "harmful" which Boyette and other players said is a lie.
Chicago Sky Vice President of Marketing Partnerships Jim Burda, Avison Young Marketing Manager Andrew Fredricks and Midtown Athletic Club Senior Vice President and General Manager Michael Mahoney spoke ahead of the panel discussion.
Bardo ( who, at one point, noted that he himself was homophobic while in college, although that changed over time ) asked Collins about his mom's reaction when he came out. Collins noted that when he was growing up she would say negative things about his gay uncle ( her brother-in-law ) and at the time he knew he was gay but could not accept it. He said this made him harbor a lot of resentment toward his mom and kept him in the closet for a longer period of time. Collins explained that after he came out to her they went to therapy together and she has also become well versed in LGBT issues.
"The person she is today would beat the crap out of the person she was in the past," said Collins about his mom.
Bardo asked Boyette about growing up with a mom ( Pam McGee, an Olympic gold medalist and the first WNBA player with a daughter and son who play professional basketball ) who was also a successful basketball player. Boyette said it was hard for her, especially when she was younger.
Both Collins and Boyette talked about how awkward it was to be so much taller than the rest of their classmates. Collins noted that both him and his twin brother Jarron ( who also played for the NBA ) were 5'3" in third grade and taller than their teacher.
Collins added that his grandmother told him the most important thing to have is a good reputation because it will take one far in life.
Boyette spoke about her depression and being a survivor of sexual abuse as well as her three suicide attempts. She said how important it is for her to use her status as a basketball star to speak out about these issues.
In addition, Bardo asked about the current state of locker rooms since Collins came out. Collins said all of his Brooklyn Nets teammates had his back right away, and noted the evolution of basketball player Tim Hardaway after retired NBA player John Amaechi came out as gay. Hardaway, Collins explained, started out as someone who said he hated gay people; however, he is an LGBT advocate who has worked with the Trevor Project and called Collins after he came out to offer his support.
When asked how sports has helped them overcome things in their lives, Boyette said playing basketball is a confidence-booster while Collins said it became his refuge when he was still in the closet.
Boyette said writing poetry helped her process things while Collins explained that the lockout during the 2010-2011 basketball season was the turning point in his coming out process.
As for their biggest influences, Collins said it was his parents while Boyette mentioned fellow WNBA star Lisa Leslie.
During the audience Q&A, someone asked Boyette about Wiggins' comments and she reiterated what she's said in the past about this issue. Collins noted the most important thing is to be a good teammate whether it's in sports or other parts of one's life.
Collins also participated in a breakfast networking event with the LGBT Chamber of Commerce July 7 at Nacional 27 as well as a Q&A and meet-and-greet with Center on Halsted members and Sky fans July 8 at Allstate Arena.