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Former NBA Player Jason Collins is Featured Speaker at UW Days of Dialogue

January 9, 2015
man holding a basketball
Jason Collins

Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA player, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Days of Dialogue (MLKDOD) at the University of Wyoming.

Collins will speak at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, in the Wyoming Union Ballroom. His talk is free and open to the public.

MLKDOD events are scheduled during the week of Feb. 2-Feb. 7 -- later dates than in years past.

“The MLKDOD planning committee is pleased to bring in a keynote speaker of this caliber to the University of Wyoming,” says Ryan Dinneen O'Neil, who co-chairs the committee with Chicory Bechtel. “We hope the topics explored at this and other MLKDOD events will help attendees think critically about social justice issues within the context of Wyoming and the campus community.”

UW Athletics Director Tom Burman sees a good opportunity for the community and the university’s student-athletes to hear Collins’ message.

“To have a former college student-athlete of Jason Collins’ stature come speak at the University of Wyoming will be a great opportunity for our current UW student-athletes,” Burman says. “Jason was part of a great basketball program at Stanford University and went on to play 13 seasons in the NBA.  He, of course, has displayed great personal strength and courage to be the first male professional athlete in the four main team sports to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality.”

This year's MLKDOD theme, “Equity in the Equality State,” recognizes the importance of dialogue about issues that affect Wyoming, Dinneen O'Neil and Bechtel say. UW community members honor the continuing impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his life and ideals through this celebration. The week of activities serves as a renewal of UW's commitment to making the campus and Wyoming a more welcoming and empowering place for people from different backgrounds, heritages, orientations or abilities, Dinneen O’Neil and Bechtel say.

Events during the week are designed to raise awareness of diversity issues, build a sense of community and celebrate diversity. To view the entire week’s events, visit the MLKDOD website at

Last season, in a Sports Illustrated cover story, Collins became the first active male player in any of the four major American professional sports to announce that he is gay. He later signed a contract to finish the 2013-14 season with the Brooklyn Nets.

He played 13 years in the NBA after being drafted the 18th overall player in the 2001 league draft by the Houston Rockets. He went on to play for the New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards. During his professional career, Collins’ teams earned 10 trips to the playoffs, including two NBA Finals appearances.

During his final season with the Nets, Collins wore No. 98 to honor UW student Matthew Shepard, who was killed in 1998. His No. 98 uniform became the best-selling jersey in the league last year. Collins said his most poignant moment came during his third game back last season, when he met Shepard's family in Denver when his Nets played the Nuggets.

“Playing 13 years in the league, people will slap different labels on you,” Collins said when he announced his retirement last November. "First and foremost, I always want my legacy to be known as a great teammate, someone who always sacrificed for the team."

At Stanford, Collins was an All-American in the 2000-01 season. He also was named to the Pac-10 first team and awarded the National Association of Basketball Coaches Pete Newell “Big Man of the Year” Award. He was ranked first in Stanford history for field goal percentage and third in blocked shots.

After the 2012-13 NBA season, President Barack Obama expressed his gratitude to Collins for his courageous announcement and said he “couldn’t be prouder.”

Since his retirement, Collins has traveled the country with the mission of “empowering people to live as their true selves.”

In 2013, GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, honored Collins with the Courage Award, and, last year, Logo TV honored Collins with its inaugural Trailblazer Award. He also is the face of Nike’s “Be True” sportswear line and Marriott’s global #LoveTravels campaign. Last April, Collins was featured on the cover of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.”

He serves on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, which works to motivate Americans to adopt a healthy lifestyle through physical activity and nutrition. Collins lives in Los Angeles.

His talk is sponsored by the UW Office of the President, Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs, Student Activities Council, UW Athletics, Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, Multicultural Affairs, Dean of Students Office, the Rainbow Resource Center and the College of Law.

“We encourage all UW students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as off-campus community members, to attend the keynote and other MLKDOD events,” Bechtel says. “A few events require advance registration, but all are free.”

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