Openly gay NBA player Jason Collins will view Tuesday’s State of the Union address from First Lady Michelle Obama’s box as one of her special invitees, the White House announced Monday. Collins, a free agent center who last played professionally blocks away from the Capitol Building with the Washington Wizards, will sit alongside two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing and three other guests.
Since penning a cover story for Sports Illustrated in the spring, Collins has become recognized as the first openly gay athlete in a major North American men’s team sport.
Collins’ invite to the State of the Union is part of what appears as a deliberate strategy from the Obamas to show support for gay athletes.
Michelle Obama tweeted her support to Collins after his decision and has reiterated at public events since, and this is the second major statement in support of gay athletes from the White House in recent months. In December, President Obama tapped Billie Jean King and two other openly gay and lesbian athletes to represent the U.S. Olympic delegation in Sochi, Russia, where a new law has targeted members of the LGBT community and raised questions about their safety both during the Games and after.
No active athletes in the NBA, NFL, MLB or NHL are openly gay. Twelve-year NBA veteran Collins remains unsigned, and the coming out of an NFL player reportedly collapsed in the spring. A month after publication of Collins’ SI piece, openly gay but retired MLS player Robbie Rogers announced that he would return to professional soccer. Numerous athletes have come out after retirement, including You Can Play Project Executive Director Wade Davis, a former defensive back on NFL practice squads, and ex-NBA center John Amaechi.
In his time away from the NBA, Collins has remained a vocal advocate for LGBT causes, marching in Boston’s gay pride alongside Congressman Joe Kennedy III, his former roommate at Stanford University. Collins also joined the First Lady in New York at the Democratic National Committee’s annual LGBT gala.