While Jason Collins just came out as gay today, he was making a subtle statement of solidarity with LGBT people through the uniform number he wore with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.
Collins wore number 98 in tribute to Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming college student who was murdered in an infamous hate crime in 1998. “The number has great significance to the gay community,” Collins writes in his coming-out piece for Sports Illustrated. He further notes that the Trevor Project, which aims to prevent suicide among LGBT young people, was founded that year.
“This amazing organization provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to kids struggling with their sexual identity,” he writes. “Trust me, I know that struggle. I’ve struggled with some insane logic. When I put on my jersey I was making a statement to myself, my family and my friends.”
Collins was once cagey about why he wore number 98 with the Celtics and Wizards, having worn 34 and 35 with other teams. He joked to reporters he chose the high number to make life more difficult for referees, who have to count off a player’s number on their fingers when they call a foul.