Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins played in his first NBA game since coming out as gay last spring after signing a 10-day contract with the club on Sunday and on Tuesday the NBA decided to make his No. 98 jersey on sale due to high demand.
He will wear No. 98 Wednesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers to honor Matthew Shepard who was kidnapped, tortured, beaten and murdered when he was a student at the University of Wyoming in an antigay hate crime in 1998.
Shepard’s father Jason spoke to ESPN about the impact Collins and openly gay football player Michael Sam have on kids who are living ‘hidden lives.’
“Jason helps those kids go ahead and live their lives to the fullest, and take their talent in academics, in sports, wherever it can take them,” Jason Shepard said by phone Monday. “Some kids are still living hidden lives, living in fear, and the more you see Jason and Michael Sam and others encouraging them to be themselves, they’ll understand they can get to the top of whatever ladder they’re climbing.”
Matthew’s mother Judy expressed similar thoughts when she spoke to msnbc’s Lawrence O’Donnell, “It made me cry to know that Matt’s story still has an impact on young people–we knew it did, but for Jason to acknowledge Matt’s story and for him to come out at all at this time in his career and his life is really pretty amazing,” Judy Shepard told msnbc’s Lawrence O’Donnell.
Pretty incredible the type of impact that professional athletes can have on people in such a short amount of time. Here’s to hoping Collins is signed by the Nets for the rest of the season and plenty more No. 98 jerseys are worn across the country and people understand the significance behind the number.