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Don't let being gay define you, aunt urges NBA's Jason Collins

Crime, Law and JusticeJason CollinsNBASports IllustratedBarack Obama

SAN FRANCISCO -- Superior Court Judge Teri L. Jackson, NBA center Jason Collins' very proud aunt, said that her nephew's family pedigree is one of firsts and of fighting discrimination.

Her parents -- Collins' grandparents -- were active in the civil rights movement. She and her sister integrated their elementary school. And she herself was San Francisco's first female, African American judge.

Jackson's advice to her nephew on his groundbreaking announcement was simple: "Not to let it define you. ... He did not become a great basketball player because of his sexual orientation. It's because of Jason the man."

Collins came out Monday in an article in Sports Illustrated as the first gay male athlete still active in a major professional sport. A free agent, he most recently played for the Washington Wizards.

Jackson was the first person Collins told that he was gay, and she said that she spoke to him twice Monday morning before answering questions during a courthouse news conference.

She said President Obama had called Collins to offer his support and that "Jason received a lot of support from teammates, former and current." She said that she does not know if he is concerned about his athletic future.

"We'll see how it goes," she said, adding that Collins was "nervous" about the announcement Monday but felt it was the right thing to do. "He has no regret coming out. He'll see what comes next. That's what he told me."

Jackson said that her nephew's message in making his sexual orientation public was that "he's a person. He is a person who has likes and dislikes. He wants family and he loves sports. That's the message. He's regular and normal like everyone else."

But Jackson, who described herself as "not a helicopter mom but a Blackhawk," acknowledged that Collins' announcement was a reflection of changing societal attitudes. However, she said, there still is much work to be done in fighting discrimination of all kinds.

"You're talking to a product of the civil rights movement," said Jackson. "I did not think in 2013 that I would still be talking about discrimination. I thought it would be eradicated before Jason and Jarron [his twin brother] were born.... They have a responsibility, and I have a responsibility to keep the fight going."

Jackson said that Collins did not go public about his sexual orientation to fend off being outed. And he also never told her that any other basketball player suspected he was gay.

"Jason did it on his own," she said.

Jackson said she does not know if her nephew has a partner but did say there have been times when he has felt lonely as a closeted gay man in professional athletics.

"How did he describe himself?" Jackson said. "Ready to burst. He was in this oven, cooking.... I'm glad I was there to be the person to talk to him.... He said, 'I want to do the right thing. I want my record to speak for itself.'"

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maria.laganga@latimes.com

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