This story appears in the Nov. 24, 2014, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
It has been 18 exhilarating months since I came out in Sports Illustrated as the first openly gay man in one of the four major professional team sports. And it has been nine months since I signed with the Nets and became the first openly gay male athlete to appear in a game in one of those leagues. It feels wonderful to have been part of these milestones for sports and for gay rights, and to have been embraced by the public, the coaches, the players, the league and history.
On Wednesday at the Barclays Center, I plan to announce my retirement as an NBA player. The day will be especially meaningful for me because the Nets will be playing the Bucks, who are coached by Jason Kidd, my former teammate and my coach in Brooklyn. It was Jason who cheered my decision to come out by posting on Twitter: “Jason’s sexuality doesn’t change the fact that he is a great friend and was a great teammate.”
Biggest Retirements of 2014
Dempster signed with the Chicago Cubs in order to retire with the team and will join its front office and become a special assistant to president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, the Cubs announced on Dec. 5. The 37-year-old had a 16-year MLB career, including nine seasons with the Cubs from 2004-2012. Dempster retires with a 132-133 record, 4.35 career ERA and 2,075 strikeouts in 2,387 innings.
Known for his large mustache, perhaps even more so than his skills as an enforcer, Parros announced his retirement on Dec. 5 after playing nine seasons in the NHL with five teams. He spent six seasons with the Anaheim Ducks and also played for the Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens. In 474 career games, he had 18 goals and 18 assists while racking up 1,092 penalty minutes.
18-year NHL veteran Daniel Alfredsson plans to announce his retirement from the league in December. Originally a sixth-round pick of the Senators in 1994, the team for whom he played the first 17 seasons of his career, Alfredsson won the Calder trophy for Rookie of the Year in 1996. The Swedish winger has scored 444 goals and recorded 713 assists for a total of 1,157 points in 1,246 NHL games. He tied for the team lead in scoring for Detroit last season, recording 49 points in 68 games.
Champ Bailey signed a ceremonial one-day contract with Denver on Nov. 18 so that he could retire as a Bronco. The 36-year-old defender had a record dozen Pro Bowl selections as a cornerback in his career and had more interceptions (52) than any active player in the 2014 season.
Jason Collins, the first openly gay man to play in the NBA, announced his retirement from the league on Nov. 19, 2014. He finished his career with 359 blocks, 2,706 rebounds and 2,621 points after being drafted 18th overall by New Jersey in 2001.
Soriano retired on Nov. 4 at the age of 38, bringing to an end a noteworthy career that included seven All-Star appearances, a 40/40 season, and 412 home runs. At his peak, Soriano possessed an elite combination of power and speed thanks to a lithe, muscular frame and quick wrists, prompting numerous comparisons to Hank Aaron. He played a role in the creation of the posting system, was an integral part of one of the greatest World Series of all time, facilitated Alex Rodriguez's arrival in New York, and had arguably the first great season in the history of the Washington Nationals.
The San Francisco 49ers running back announced his retirement on Nov. 5 due to a knee injury he suffered during college. Lattimore, 23, tore every ligament in his right knee and dislocated his kneecap during a 2012 game while playing for the University of South Carolina. The 49ers selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft and he spent the entire 2013 season on the non-football injury list recovering. He intended to make his debut this season, but his knee injury continued to derail those plans.
The three-time All-Star infielder announced his retirement on Oct. 30. Youkilis, 35, played this past season in Japan before chronic plantar fasciitis ended his season early. He played 10 major league seasons, including the first eight-and-a-half with the Boston Red Sox. Youkilis was a rookie on the 2004 Red Sox team that ended the team's 86-drought between World Series victories. He started at first base for the Red Sox when they won the 2007 World Series. From 2008 through 2011, he made three of four All-Star Games. In 2008, Youkilis finished third in AL MVP voting after hitting .312 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI.
The longtime Yankees shortstop announced in February his intention to retire from baseball at the end of the 2014 season, his 20th in the majors. The 1996 Rookie of the Year and 14-time All-Star won five World Series championships. ''Captain Clutch'' will be remembered as one of the greatest New York Yankees ever and a player who helped usher in a new era of Yankee glory.
The Dodgers pitcher is retiring after 14 MLB seasons. Beckett, 34, went 6-6 this season with a a 2.88 ERA in 20 starts, including throwing a no-hitter against the Phillies in May. He finished the season on the disabled list for a torn labrum in his left hip that will require surgery. He also missed most of the 2013 season after being diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. Beckett, a three-time All-Star, won two World Series titles and was the World Series MVP in 2003 with the Florida Marlins after closing out the Yankees in Game 6 on three days rest. He was also was the ALCS MVP in 2007 with the Boston Red Sox, helping that team win a championship. Beckett finishes his career with a 138-106 record, 3.88 ERA and 1,901 strikeouts.
Due to lingering neck injuries, Wilson was forced to retire in August after just two NFL seasons. A 2012 first-round pick, Wilson suffered a serious neck injury in the 2013 season, limiting him to just five games and 146 rushing yards. He aggravated the injury in the following preseason, bringing his career to a premature end. In his retirement speech, Wilson said, ''Don’t for a second do you all think that I’m pitying myself or sad because I got to live my dream.'' Wilson later announced that he's planning a return to track and field as a triple jumper.
Becky Hammon, who was voted one of the 15 greatest players in WNBA history, has announced that she will hang it up at the end of the season. Undrafted out of Colorado State, she immediately made an impact with the New York Liberty, earning the fans admiration and respect. Though she never won a title in 15 seasons, Hammon will now get the chance to do so as a coach in the NBA. In August, the San Antonio Spurs made her the first full-time female coach in any of the four major sports, a distinction whose significance was not lost on basketball fans of all ages, genders, creeds and colors.
Adam Dunn is calling it a career after 14 MLB seasons. Dunn was on a postseason roster for the first time in his career when the Oakland A' played the Kansas City Royals in the AL Wild Card game on Sept. 30. Dunn never got off the bench in the Royals' 9-8 12-inning victory. He finishes his 14-year career (spent mostly with the Reds) as a .237 hitter with 462 home runs and 1,168 RBIs. He struck out 2,379 times in 2,001 career regular season games: only Jim Thome and MLB Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson struck out more.
Chinese tennis star Li Na received a tearful send-off on center court at the China Open on Sept. 23, complete with hugs from her former competitors, cheers from home fans, and a bouquet of flowers from Rafael Nadal. WTA chairman Stacey Allaster called her ''the player of this decade who has made the most impact and growth on women's tennis.'' The two-time major winner announced her retirement before her hometown Wuhan Open, citing recurring knee injuries.
Five-time All-Star point guard Chauncey Billups, who became the 2004 NBA Finals MVP for the Pistons' title run, announced his retirement on Sept. 9, saying ''it's just time.'' Billups battled chronic knee issues throughout his career and said that he knew it's time to hang it up because he can't play at that level anymore.
After a stellar NBA career spanning 13 seasons, defensive stalwart and Duke University legend Shane Battier announced his retirement after the Miami Heat lost Game 5 of the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs, clinching the series for the latter. His career accomplishments include two NBA titles with the Miami Heat and the 2001 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship with Duke, during which he won all of the major National Player of the Year honors.
Before the 2013-14 season began, Selanne announced that it would be his last. ''The Finnish Flash'' finished 11th all time in goals with 684 through 23 seasons in the NHL, and he became the oldest scorer in the Olympic Winter Games when he netted against the U.S. at age 43. His 1,430 total points are good for 15th on the NHL's all-time scoring list.
The 27-year-old Rice played seven seasons in the NFL, four with Minnesota and three with Seattle. He made the Pro Bowl after the 2009 season, in which he caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns. Last season, Rice played in just eight games before tearing his ACL, which caused him to miss the remainder of the regular season and Seattle's march to the Super Bowl title. However, Rice's decision to retire was reportedly related to his history of concussions.
Donovan, U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer's all-time leading scorer, will retire at the end of the 2014 MLS season. Donovan, 32, will step away as the most decorated men's player in U.S. Soccer history. He played in three World Cups, helping the Americans to the 2002 quarterfinals, before famously being left off the 2014 World Cup roster by manager Jurgen Klinsmann. His most iconic moment came in the 2010 group stage against Algeria, when his stoppage time goal put the USA through to the knockout stage from the brink of elimination.
The longtime White Sox slugger retired the end of the season, completing an 18-year major league career, 16 of those spent in Chicago. Team owner Jerry Reinsdorf said "of course" Konerko's jersey will be retired and that the six-time All-Star is "worthy of a statue." He added that Konerko has "always conducted himself with class." Konerko has 439 career home runs — with all but seven coming for Chicago — 1,412 RBIs and an .841 OPS.
After six seasons in the NFL, running back Rashard Mendenhall has reportedly told teams he is retiring -- and for some interesting reasons. Mendenhall never fully recovered from an ACL tear in 2011, which affected his 2012 and 2013 performances. The 26-year-old ends his career with 1,081 carries, 4,236 yards and 72 touchdowns.
A 17-year veteran of the UFC Light Heavyweight circuit, Chael Sonnen announced his retirement after testing positive for drugs that helped him deal with hypogonadism, a disease that creates a testosterone deficiency in the body. Sonnen compiled a 28-14-1 record in UFC, as well as earning the title of ''greatest talker in UFC history.''
The longtime Texas Ranger announced his retirement from baseball in late January after spending 14 years in the big leagues. From 2004 to 2009, Young was named to six straight All-Star teams and added a seventh appearance in 2011. He played for the Rangers for 13 seasons before splitting time this past season with the Phillies and Dodgers. Young was a very good hitter, leading the league in batting average in 2005 and batting over .300 for seven seasons. He helped take Texas to two straight World Series in 2010 and 2011, although the Rangers failed to win either Series.
Koivu announced that he will be retiring from the NHL on Sept. 10. Koivu’s career has spanned 18 years and 1,124 NHL games with two teams: the Montreal Canadiens and the Anaheim Ducks. His first 13 seasons were spent with Montreal, 10 of which he was team captain, tying Jean Beliveau for the longest captaincy in team history. Koivu was a Team Finland member during the 1994, 1998, 2006, and 2010 Olympics.
Tight end Dallas Clark was just as integral to the Colts' aerial attack in the 2000s as any other of Peyton Manning's pass catchers. Wideouts Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne may have been more celebrated, but Clark proved to be a steady, reliable presence for Manning. His only Pro Bowl season came in 2009, when he became only the second tight end ever to haul in 100 receptions in a season. He finished the year with 100 catches for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns. Clark suffered a season-ending wrist injury in 2010, which continued to hamper him throughout the 2011 season. The Colts released him the following offseason and he played one year each with the Buccaneers and Ravens.
After only playing 73 games for the Rangers in 2013, Lance Berkman decided to retire in late January. Berkman played 12 years for the Houston Astros before bouncing around between the Cardinals, Yankees and Rangers since he was traded to New York in 2010. Throughout his stay in Houston, Berkman was one of the game's better hitters, racking up a career-high 45 home runs and 136 RBIs in 2006. The six-time All-Star led the Astros to the World Series in 2005, but Houston fell to the White Sox. He finished his career with 359 home runs, 1,191 RBIs and a lifetime .296 batting average.
The veteran retired after 18 seasons, which included stints with the Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets. The 40-year-old has played in 2,423 career games with a .291 average, .395 OBP, 2,469 hits 288 home runs, 1,363 RBI and 400 stolen bases. He was named an All-Star in 2004 and 2005.
Arguably the most important commissioner in American professional sports history, David Stern spent 30 years at the helm of the NBA. Under his watch, the NBA expanded tremendously, both nationally and internationally. Games are now televised in 215 countries and regular season contests are regularly played outside North America. Stern also changed the structure of the league, instituting a salary cap and revenue sharing.
As baseball's commissioner since 1992, Bud Selig has presided over his fair share of controversies, including the so-called Steroid Era and the 1994 players' strike. Selig announced last September that he planned to retire after the 2014 season, which will be his 23rd season in his role as commissioner. Although aspects of his tenure have been controversial, Selig has also overseen a major attendance spike for the game, the debut of the World Baseball Classic, and a changed MLB postseason format.
After an 18-year NHL career, Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Smyth decided to hang up his skates in April. With 386 goals and 456 assists, Smyth was a steady presence and longtime star for the Oilers, with whom he spent 15 seasons. He also stood out on the Canadian national team, earning the nickname ''Captain Canada'' for his loyalty.
The former Astros ace decided to leave the mound for good this offseason after three career All-Star appearances and five finishes in the top-five of Cy Young voting. Oswalt spent the majority of his career with Houston before joining the Phillies in 2010. After a brief stint in Philadelphia, he played a year for each the Rangers and Rockies. While Oswalt won't be remembered as the greatest pitcher of his generation, he was one of the game's most consistent starting arms throughout his career.
After 32 seasons as a head coach, California's Mike Montgomery, 67, announced his retirement on March 31. Montgomery's teams went 130-73 in his six years at Cal, including a 21-14 record and NIT berth this season. He previously spent 18 years at Stanford (392-168) and eight at Montana (154-77). He also coached two seasons with the NBA's Golden State Warriors.
The former Packers safety announced his retirement from the NFL on Aug. 20. In his six seasons before sustaining a neck injury in Week 2 of the 2011 season, Collins was named to the Pro Bowl three times and won Super Bowl XLV with the Packers. His best season came in 2008, when he co-led the NFC with seven interceptions and led the NFL with three touchdowns and 295 interception return yards. The 31-year-old finishes his career with 21 interceptions and 417 tackles.
Veteran forward Jamie Langenbrunner made his retirement official, closing the book on 16 years of top-flight two-way contributions. The American forward and two-time Olympian stood out for the Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils and St. Louis Blues, finishing with a plus-minus rating of +62 and capturing two Stanley Cups.
Bavetta, 74, will be remembered as the league's officiating iron man, having refereed a record 2,635 consecutive regular season games from his Dec. 2, 1975, debut through the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. The NBA's previous record for most consecutive regular season games officiated was 2,134, held by former referee Jake O'Donnell and surpassed by Bavetta in 2006. A native of Brooklyn, Bavetta never once called in sick during a 39-year career that also saw him oversee 270 playoff games, 27 Finals games and three All-Star Games. Bavetta worked in every Finals series from 1990 through 2008. Perhaps the most memorable moment of his tenure was his race against Hall of Famer Charles Barkley at the 2007 All-Star Game.
Snee, a four-time Pro Bowler and the last link to a dominant Giants offensive line that helped it win two Super Bowl championships, had started for the Giants in each of his 10 seasons in the league. He had been battling a slew of injuries over the past two seasons. Snee, 32, played just three games last season because of hip problems, but it appears to have been a longer-than-expected recovery from elbow surgery that finally pushed him to retire.
The former Saints and Buccaneers offensive guard was forced to retire after suffering from a chronic toe injury and contracting a MRSA infection in the Tampa Bay locker room in 2013. Nicks signed a five-year $47.5 million contract with $31 million guaranteed in 2012, but only played nine games over two seasons with the Bucs. Nicks was one of three Tampa Bay players diagnosed with MRSA during the 2013 season. He made two Pro Bowls with the Saints and was named to the All-Pro First Team in 2011.
A six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, guard Brian Waters announced his retirement from the NFL on Sept. 2. Waters spent the majority of his 13-year NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs. He also played a season for the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys.
Greer, 32, tore his ACL last November while playing for the Saints and decided not to attempt a comeback. The cornerback played the first five seasons of his career with the Bills after going undrafted in 2004 out of Tennessee. Greer played the last five seasons with the Saints, winning a Super Bowl ring during his first season with the team. He finishes his career with 13 interceptions, including four returned for touchdowns, and 348 tackles in 10 seasons.
Hernandez's reliability and durability allowed him to rack up 178 wins, the fourth most by a Cuban-born pitcher and most ever by a pitcher who defected from Cuba after Fidel Castro's revolution. A below-average pitcher on his career who did start two games in two different World Series (1997 and 2002), Hernandez is unlikely to draw more than a token Hall of Fame vote, nor should he, but his was absolutely a career worth remembering.
Considering all the speculation about problems I might face within the locker room, Jason’s support was significant. It had been argued that no team would want to take on a player who was likely to attract a media circus from the outset and whose sexuality would be a distraction. I’m happy to have helped put those canards to rest. The much-ballyhooed media blitz to cover me unscrambled so quickly that a flack jokingly nicknamed me Mr. Irrelevant.
Among the memories I will cherish most are the warm applause I received in Los Angeles when I took the court in my Nets debut, and the standing ovation I got at my first home game in Brooklyn. It shows how far we’ve come. The most poignant moment came at my third game, in Denver, where I met the family of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student beaten to death in a 1998 hate crime on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo. For the past two years I have worn number 98 on my jersey to honor his memory. I was humbled to learn that number 98 jerseys became the top seller at NBAStore.com. Proceeds from sales, and from auctioned jerseys I wore in games, were donated to two gay-rights charities.
There are still no publicly gay players in the NFL, NHL or major league baseball. Believe me: They exist. Every pro sport has them. I know some of them personally. When we get to the point where a gay pro athlete is no longer forced to live in fear that he’ll be shunned by teammates or outed by tabloids, when we get to the point where he plays while his significant other waits in the family room, when we get to the point where he’s not compelled to hide his true self and is able to live an authentic life, then coming out won’t be such a big deal. But we’re not there yet.
Jason Collins Through the Years
NBA center Jason Collins became the first active player in a major American sport to announce that he is gay. Collins, 34, who played this season for the Celtics and Wizards, made the revelation in the May 6 issue of <italics>Sports Illustrated</italics>.
Jason Collins and his twin brother, Jarron, pose in a casual portrait while at Stanford in 2001.
St. Joseph's Marvin O'Connor (11) faces the twin wall of Stanford's Jason (34) and Jarron (31) Collins during the second round of the 2001 NCAA Tournament. The Collins twins were both selected in the 2001 NBA Draft.
Jason Collins rises for a shot during a 2003 game. Collins was a key piece of the Nets' frontcourt for seven seasons.
The Nets' Jason Collins battles for a rebound against the New York Knicks in a 2004 playoff game.
The Nets' Jason Collins boxes out the Heat's Shaquille O'Neal during a 2005 playoff game. Collins frequently guarded Shaq over the course of his career. In his <italics>SI</italics> story, Collins said, "Note to Shaq: My flopping has nothing to do with being gay."
Jason Collins, seen here playing with Memphis, is defended by the Clippers' Al Thornton and Chris Kaman during a 2008 game in Los Angeles.
Jason Collins, seen here with the Minnesota Timberwolves, shoots against the Magic's Dwight Howard during a 2008 game.
Jason Collins, playing with the Hawks, reacts during a game against the Magic in 2010.
The Hawks' Jason Collins and Al Horford battle for a rebound against Brandon Bass of the Magic during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference first round in 2011.
Jason Collins, playing with the Celtics, brings down a rebound against the Bobcats' Brendan Haywood in 2013.
Jason Collins was traded from the Celtics to the Wizards in February 2013.
"I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport," Jason Collins said. "But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation."
"I go against the gay stereotype," Jason Collins said, "which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay?"
"I'm glad I can stop hiding and refocus on my 13th NBA season," Jason Collins said. "I've been running through the Santa Monica Mountains in a 30-pound vest with Shadow, the German shepherd I got from Mike Miller."
"I've been asked how other players will respond to my announcement," Jason Collins said. "The simple answer is, I have no idea. I'm a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst."