Gryphons Athletics Tackles LGBT Bias

Former NBA player Jason Collins (center) with President Cristle Collins Judd and Athletic Director Kristen Maile. Credit: Sarah Lawrence Athletics

Former NBA player Jason Collins (center) with President Cristle Collins Judd and Athletic Director Kristen Maile. Credit: Sarah Lawrence Athletics

On Jan. 19, Sarah Lawrence College teamed up with the Nike BeTrue Campaign to host a panel on LGBTQ discrimination in sports, titled “Pride on the Court.” Speakers included President Cristle Collins Judd, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano and Majority Leader Michael Sabatino, the first openly gay Yonkers City Council member. The panel also featured Saunders High School basketball coach Anthony Nicodemo, Nike Senior Director Robert Goman and former NBA player Jason Collins.

In 2013 Collins, a free agent at the time, came out as gay, making him the first ‘out’ player in NBA history. During his live interview with Goman, Collins shared his experiences of both prejudice and achievement on and off the court.

“I knew that I was gay since I was a junior in high school,” Collins said. “I always knew that I had different feelings, but I always told myself that I would meet the right girl and all these feelings would go away. I didn’t accept myself.”

Since coming out, Collins has become a vocal advocate for ending LGBTQ discrimination in athletics. In 2013, Collins also became the first person to wear a piece from the Nike BeTrue line of clothing, debuting a t-shirt at the Boston Pride parade. BeTrue, a Nike campaign that began in 2012, is a clothing and footwear line devoted to ending gender and sexuality discrimination in sports. Since its inception, the campaign has donated over 2.5 million dollars to LGBTQ causes.

“The idea of BeTrue as a whole is to open the space for you to be who you really are,”  Goman said. “Play your sport at the very best, and not have to worry about what people may think.”

Collins is now very open about his experiences as a gay basketball player, including his childhood in a religious home and homophobic experiences with opposing players. Yet it was a long journey before he felt comfortable expressing his feelings publicly, particularly as an adolescent.

“I was angry. I was angry that I wasn’t able to accept myself,” Collins said . “Luckily, I had basketball as an outlet. In basketball, it’s okay to be aggressive.”

Saunders Blue Devils coach Anthony Nicodemo, also an openly gay man, discussed his own experiences coming out to his players in 2013. He is believed to be the first gay basketball coach in New York.

“I wasn’t sure how I was going to tell [his team] at first,”  Nicodemo said. Since coming out, however, his players have met people that he’s dated. “I’m a lot more open now.”

During a post-panel Q&A session, Collins addressed how athletes can support their LGBTQ teammates, regardless of whether they are publically out.

“Something that made me feel safe to come out was the signals I saw [from teammates],and that’s something you guys can do,”  Collins said. “Whether it’s wearing a pride pin or what you’re retweeting, signaling to the world that you’re an ally.”

These signals, both direct and indirect, were integral in making Collins feel comfortable enough with his friends and teammates to come out.

“If you see someone new to a situation, have that moment with them and make them feel welcome, make them feel accepted to be who they are,” Collins continued. “You might only get one chance, and you have to be ready for that opportunity.”

The entire Sarah Lawrence men’s basketball team attended the event, along with the men’s teams of Saunders High School of Yonkers and Somers High School teams of Somers, New York. They were joined by representatives from the Gay Straight Alliances of many Yonkers-area high schools, and other student groups from across the district. The event was open to the public, and many SLC students, administrators, and professors were present as well.

Following the event, on Jan. 20, the Gryphons hosted a doubleheader as part of the Nike BeTrue event. All money made from admissions went to the Hudson Valley Chapter of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

Clad in BeTrue gear, the Gryphons warmed up to music by Zeke Thomas, openly gay son of retired NBA star Isiah Thomas. They then took on the Purchase College Panthers, a team that handed them a tight loss earlier in the season. After the first game, Saunders and Somers faced off on the Gryphon court, where the Blue Devils took the win 77-46.

Gryphons won the game against Purchase 81-79, a late win that stands as SLC’s first ever against their Skyline Conference rivals. Sophomore Luke O’Connor led the team in three-pointers, sinking four out of his five attempts, while first year Enike Anyia went 5-6 in free throws.

Isabella Rowland-Reid, '21