Jason Collins is, by nature, a cheerful man. His smile is easy in coming, and he is quick to share it with anyone who takes more than a second to know him.
The face of the former NBA center, however, was clouded with emotion he made sure to articulate during an interview before Saturday’s WNBA game between Phoenix and Dallas. The topic of the conversation centered on the recent shooting tragedy that took place in Orlando, a sensitive subject for the NBA’s first openly gay athlete.
After revealing his sexual orientation late in his career, Collins has since become an ambassador of the LGBT community. That role took an unexpected turn after Orlando, which inflicted the same roller coaster of emotions nearly everyone felt upon hearing or seeing the news of the shootings that took place at a local gay nightclub.
“It’s supposed to be a safe space,” Collins said of the club that, in moments, became the opposite. “To have that shattered, it’s heart-breaking.”
“You’re angry,” he added, “but you have to understand there are positive ways to channel anger. Channel it toward urging your members of Congress to change legislation. Channel it towards going to a blood bank to donate blood if you can, or donating money if you’re in a position to donate money. There are positive ways.”
One week after the tragedy, Collins helped set that example in Phoenix for the Mercury’s PRIDE Night, which celebrates the team’s LGBT supporters. In a halftime interview with Hall-of-Fame player Ann Meyers Drysdale, he said he was a big fan of current Mercury center Brittney Griner, who is also an openly gay professional athlete.
The game also featured signs in different colors for each section of seats, highlighting the rainbow theme of PRIDE Night. A video was shown recounting the story of two female Mercury fans who were married in the Casino Arizona Pavilion, located just inside the arena.
Before the game, fans were invited to donate blood to the American Red Cross, which had set up a blood drive inside the arena. The Mercury also auctioned unique game experiences and items, the proceeds of which were donated entirely to the OneOrlando Fund
Collins believes the WNBA has made its mark as a supporter of the LGBT community and as an inclusive league in general.
“[WNBA athletes] are great off the court for their teams, for their communities,” Collins said. “They truly are global citizens because they play overseas as well. It’s important to have those female role models who can inspire a generation of young women to continue to strive for the stars.”