Before coming out, Jason Collins wore ’98’ jersey in solidarity with gay community

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NBA star Jason Collins, who came out as gay this week, had been making a quiet statement of solidarity with the gay community, every time he stepped out onto the court.

Jason Collins on Monday spoke about his sexuality, confirming he is gay in an article to Sports Illustrated magazine. He said: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.

He also noted that he wore the number 98 jersey for every game in the 2012/13 season, as a mark of respect to Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in 1998.

Collins said: “My one small gesture of solidarity was to wear jersey number 98 with the Celtics and then the Wizards. The number has great significance to the gay community. One of the most notorious antigay hate crimes occurred in 1998. Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was kidnapped, tortured and lashed to a prairie fence. He died five days after he was finally found.

“That same year the Trevor Project was founded. This amazing organization provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to kids struggling with their sexual identity. Trust me, I know that struggle. I’ve struggled with some insane logic. When I put on my jersey I was making a statement to myself, my family and my friends.”

He also said something similar speaking to ABC News, in an interview with George Stephanopoulous. He said: “Each time I put on jersey 98 this past season, I was already sort of having that moment with myself, with my family, with my friends who knew the significance of why I picked that number. Jersey 98 for Matthew Shepherd. That’s why I wore jersey 98.”

Matthew Shepard was tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, for being gay, and whose murder in 1998 became a focal point for a call for hate crime legislation to be passed.

Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, who after his death became a gay rights and anti-hate crime campaigner, said on MSNBC: “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.”

The Washington Post yesterday reported that the Wizards, Collins; current team, noted that “100 percent of personalized jerseys ordered from their online store yesterday were ‘Collins 98′.”

Collins has received thousands of messages of support, including from President Barack Obama, and First Lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, his teammates, coaches, the Commissioner of the NBA, and countless others.