Commentary

Collins' ex-fiancee offers support

Updated: April 30, 2013, 10:15 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Jason Collins Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsJason Collins wore No. 98 as a tribute to Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming man tortured and murdered in 1998 for being gay.

So you were shocked to hear that 7-foot NBA center Jason Collins is gay? You should talk to Carolyn Moos. She was engaged to him.

Moos, a former Stanford and WNBA center, dated Collins for eight years and was to marry him in 2009 until he suddenly called it off with a month to go.

Then: hurt, confusion and embarrassment. Today: answers.

Collins told Moos last weekend over the phone before coming out, the first male active American team-sport pro athlete to do so, in a Sports Illustrated story Monday.

"I had to sit down," says Moos, now a personal trainer and nutritional consultant. "I was shocked. There's no words to really describe my reaction. … But this does alleviate some of the pain. … I'm so happy for him. He deserves to live the life he wants."

Nobody -- not fiancées, not four years' worth of teammates at Stanford, not six teams' worth of NBA teammates -- saw this coming.

Especially not Mike McDonald, a childhood friend and former Stanford teammate. A month ago, Collins stopped by the McDonalds' home to see their new baby. For the past nine months, McDonald noticed Collins was more stressed than usual, wasn't quite his bubbly self.

"What are your plans for next season?" McDonald asked.

"Well," Collins said, "it's kinda up in the air right now, because I'm gay."

Pause. Blink. Look at wife. Look back at Collins.

"Yeah?" McDonald said.

"Yeah," Collins said.

"Well … congratulations!" McDonald said. Hugs all around. The baby in the middle somewhere.

Collins told McDonald he was planning to out himself. He told him he was ready to live his life in the open. When you're 7 feet tall, there are not a lot of places to hide. The closet must've felt very cramped.

"Nothing, ever, made me think he might be gay," McDonald says.

Not canceling a wedding with a month to go?

"Nope. He just said there was a lot of stuff going on, that he just couldn't go through with it. … I'm happy for him. He seemed relieved to tell his friends."

Collins is now the Jackie Robinson of gay athletes and, like Robinson, strong enough for the job. He's universally loved in the NBA. He's smart, funny and a wheelbarrow full of sunshine in the locker room. He only cares about defense, not scoring points, which is why he'll probably sign for one last season -- his 13th -- somewhere in the league this fall.

Playing everywhere from New Jersey to Memphis to Minnesota to Atlanta to Boston to Washington, he's got more friends than Mark Zuckerberg. He couldn't tell them all ahead of time. One of those was Stanford teammate, Grizzlies teammate and buddy Casey Jacobsen, now playing in Germany.

[+] EnlargeCarolyn Moos
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesMoos got some closure with Collins' announcement.
"I was disappointed I guess," says Jacobsen, 32. "I've always said that if I ever had a gay teammate, I'd hope he'd feel he could share that with me and know that he wouldn't be judged by me. … But I get it. He's in the spotlight now. And I'm so proud of him. If there was one guy to break down this barrier, he's the guy."

Jacobsen's entire team heard the news together in the locker room after practice Monday and it sparked a discussion about how the towel-snapping world of jocks would welcome a gay teammate.

"There were a few ignorant statements, of course," Jacobsen says. "Like, 'I don't know if I'd be comfortable with that.' And I said, 'You guys, you're fooling yourselves if you don't think you've already played with a gay teammate.' I knew I had. I just didn't know who. Turned out to be Jason."

This whole I-don't-know-if-I'm-comfortable argument about gay athletes is 99.9 percent fear and 0.1 percent reality. It's paranoia in high tops. A locker room is about the worst pickup place in the world. It's not like a gay teammate is going to come up to somebody in the team shower and go, "Hey, is this bar stool empty?" It stinks, everybody's exhausted, and the coach is usually yelling at you. And besides, who says you're his type?

"I don't think it'd be weird to have a gay roommate on the road," Jacobsen says. "I don't think it'd be weird to shower with a gay teammate. My ego is not so big that I think every gay man thinks I'm a catch."

If anything, feel glad for Jason Collins that it's all over. All the hiding, all the lies, all the secrets. He had to hurt some people to keep them, starting with the woman he promised to marry.

"I'd mapped out my life completely," recalls Moos, 34. "I knew I wanted to be married, wanted to have children, live in this city, send my kids to this school. … I invested eight years in something. … To be able to recover from that is not an easy process. … But I'm glad Jason can be his own person now. I'm glad he can walk in his own shoes."

Be happy for Jason Collins, the ultimate NBA free agent. He's an agent of change now. And he's finally free.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com