Jason Collins, who came out in 2013 as the first openly gay NBA player, has been a friend of the Clinton family for nearly 20 years. He stopped by the Bryan Center Wednesday to help register voters prior to Friday's registration deadline. The Chronicle's Neelesh Moorthy spoke with Collins about his relationship with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and his reaction to North Carolina's controversial House Bill 2.
The Chronicle: How did you get involved with the Clinton campaign?
Jason Collins: Well, I’ve known the Clinton family for just about 20 years now. I was classmates with Chelsea at Stanford. We actually met at a party our freshman year, and I went up to her and said ‘Hi, I’m Jason Collins’ and she was like ‘Hi, I’m Chelsea Clinton’ and I’m like ‘I know.’ She was so down-to-earth, so cool and just a chill person.
I struck up a friendship with her and obviously I have a twin brother [Jarron Collins] who is now an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors but played 10 years in the NBA before that. We all became friends, and a year after we got there, my brother’s girlfriend, now wife, started at Stanford and became friends with Chelsea. Years later, Chelsea was a bridesmaid at my brother and his wife’s wedding, and my sister-in law was a bridesmaid in Chelsea’s wedding. While we were there at Stanford, we got to meet her parents not as the president and first lady but as mom and dad, and to have them ask us about our grades and how basketball's going.
They got to eventually know my family, so it was really cool to get to know the Clintons and continue that friendship over the years. In 2001, when we graduated from Stanford, they came to our graduation party. So you can imagine, we have our family members and then in walks the Secret Service and the Clintons. They’re just down-to-earth people, and throughout the years, I've maintained a friendship with Chelsea and her family to the point of going to birthday parties and weddings.
In 2011, I started coming out to my family and to my friends, privately. And some of the people I came out to were the Clintons, obviously leading up to the big public announcement in 2013. I will forever be grateful to the Clintons for their words of support and their words of love and their advice to me.
Flash-forward now to the campaign, and over the last year, Hillary announced she was getting into the race, and I knew I wanted to get involved.
For me, it boils down to the kind of America I want to live in. My brother’s wife is Mexican, so they have three beautiful children right now who are obviously half-black, half-Mexican. Being biracial children, [it is important] what kind of country I want them growing up in. I travel around the world and people always look up to the United States, and I want that to continue, but we can’t have that if Donald Trump is our president. He is a bully, he is a pig, he is a misogynist, he is a racist, he is xenophobic, he insults our troops, whether they be prisoners of war, gold star families or have PTSD. He has said things that should disqualify him from being president, yet he’s still there because there are some people who for some odd reason continue to support him.
Sometimes he will excuse his behavior, like he’s done recently saying ‘it’s locker room talk,’ and it’s not locker room talk. As someone who played in the NBA for 13 years, college basketball for four years, high school basketball another four years before that, that is not locker room talk. I’ve heard some pretty outrageous things, but never to the extent of what he said.
Yet this man, Donald Trump, is in position, potentially, to be in the White House. I’m doing everything I can, which is why I’m traveling across the country and even today, on the three-year anniversary with my boyfriend, so that I can come here to Duke and come here to North Carolina and make sure to get people registered to vote.
TC: What is your reaction to HB2 and how businesses and various athletic organizations have pulled their business from the state?
JC: It seems that [Governor Pat McCrory] is looking to blame every single person in the room except for himself. And in team sports, that never flies. We have to hold each other accountable and hold yourself accountable to the team, and he has really let down the team of North Carolina. Even the legendary coach you have here, Coach K, has come out and said how horrible HB2 is and how it is a stain on your reputation.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
But we have the business world and the sports world stepping up because ultimately in America, money talks a majority of the time. When you have a negative economic impact, that can hopefully encourage the state legislature to repeal, and that really is the solution to all these problems—repeal HB2 and life will go on like it was before.
If HB2 goes away, then the game is back, the ACC is back, the NCAA championships are back. As an employee for the NBA, I would feel extremely uncomfortable coming to North Carolina for the All-Star Game. So we have to make sure we have an environment, and businesses have an environment, where your fans, your employees feel absolutely comfortable to be themselves.
Hopefully in this election, in addition to voting for Hillary Clinton, the people of North Carolina will vote for a new governor in Roy Cooper.
TC: What role do you think athletes have in activism and promoting social causes?
JC: Sports transcends so much in our society. You can look at the Colin Kaepernick situation, which started a conversation that had already started, but because of Colin’s actions, other athletes are doing it. That’s the only way things change, when people talk about it and have those tough conversations about it instead of sweeping it under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist.
It goes back to a conversation I was having with Vice President Joe Biden. He was congratulating me on coming out and saying how big a deal it was for the LGBT community. But he also said it was just as big and probably even bigger for the straight community, because sometimes it’s hard for two straight guys to have a conversation about LGBT issues and to initiate that conversation. But when you put it in the context of sports, ‘hey did you see that NBA player,’ it’s easier for them to kick-off the conversation and start talking about it.
When you have that visibility, it’s easier for people to talk about it and affect real change, because people are really addressing the issues and what’s going on.