Former NBA player Jason Collins, who became the first openly gay athlete to play in one of the four major North American sports leagues, spoke out this week about the recent wave of NHL players and teams opting out of Pride Night, saying that “religion should not be a cause for division.”
In an interview with The Athletic published Monday, Collins discusses a variety of topics, including the recent controversy surrounding the National Hockey League, where several teams and individual players have opted out of celebrating their respective Pride Night festivities this season.
“I have seen from afar some of the stories that have come out,” Collins said when asked his thoughts on this issue.
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“I’ll say this: My grandmother was the most religious person that I’ve ever known. She’s a Black, Southern, upstate Louisiana woman… picture an old, Black woman with a Bible in one hand, three belts in the other. (Laughs) As religious as she was, it was always about love. As a disciplinarian, it was always about love.”
Earlier this year, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov, who is Russian Orthodox, said he elected not to participate in pregame warmups during the team’s January Pride Night in order to “stay true” to himself and his religion.
“I respect everybody and I respect everybody’s choices,” he told reporters at the time. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m going to say.”
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Since then a number of players and teams have made similar decisions – some Russian players have opted out over fear of reprisal in their home country.
In March, San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer cited his “beliefs in Christ” and brothers Eric and Marc Staal, who play for the Florida Panthers, said they believe “wearing a Pride jersey, it goes against our Christian beliefs.”
“Religion should not be a cause for division, to justify any kind of inequality or to not be able to accept someone for who they are,” Collins told The Athletic. “When I came out to my grandmother – and she was the family member I was most nervous to come out to – she said, ‘Baby, it’s about love.’ She said, ‘Jesus taught me to love.’ It’s about bringing people together. That’s what I think religion should be about. It’s unfortunate when people aren’t that way and try to use religion as a way to divide.”
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Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the backlash in late March, suggesting it was the first of its kind and that “it’s something that we’re going to have to evaluate in the offseason.”
Collins, 44, played the majority of his career with the New Jersey Nets after getting drafted by the Houston Rockets with the No. 18 overall pick in 2001. He played for several teams and, in 2013, he came out as gay.
After returning to the Nets in 2014, he became the first openly gay athlete to play in one of the four major North American sports leagues.