WASHINGTON — The NBA’s Washington Wizards said Wednesday that the team’s online store has had a significant surge in sales of jerseys with Jason Collins’ number 98 since the NBA player came out as gay earlier this week.
Wizards spokesman Scott Hall said that although he could not place an actual number of jerseys sold, he verified that that “100 percent” had Collins’ name and number.
While Collins hid his sexual orientation for years, he said he quietly made a statement for gay rights by wearing No. 98 with the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards. The number refers to 1998, the year that Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, was tied to a fence outside Laramie, beaten, and left to die.
“When I put on my jersey I was making a statement to myself, my family and my friends,” Collins wrote in his Sports Illustrated essay.
Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard, said Tuesday that she was touched and gratified for Collins making that gesture of acknowledgement.
“To hear the story behind his number, well, I cried,” said Shepard. “I thought it was such a tribute to Matt, to Matt’s story, and to so many other young people who are struggling. His own silent, private tribute, I was very moved.”
“In the past, they [gay athletes] had to hide who they are and who they love and this gives them a chance to be themselves and focus on what they should be focused on which is the sport they’re participating in and not focusing half their energy on trying to hide who they are,” added Matthew’s father, Dennis Shepard.
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