As the first openly gay, active male athlete in one of the four major professional team sports in America, NBA center Jason Collins is in uncharted territory. So on Monday, April 29 -- the day he came out in a story for Sports Illustrated -- he sought comfort and advice wherever he could find it. One such source of wisdom? Former 'N Sync boy bander Lance Bass, who opened up about his sexuality in 2006.
Bass, 33, revealed during his Sirius XM show, Dirty Pop With Lance Bass, that Collins had reached out to him earlier that day. (The Washington Wizards player and the singer don't know each other personally but have a mutual friend in actress JoAnna Garcia Swisher, who suggested the two get in touch.)
"He's been trying to plan this for a very long time, contemplating if he wanted to do this," Bass said of Collins' coming out. "In fact, he said he was going to call me months ago but was too scared, because he wanted to tell me."
The musician-turned-radio host went on to say that he had offered Collins some guidance on how to navigate the media frenzy surrounding his story. "I gave him some very good advice today, because of course everybody wants to interview him...and he was figuring out who would get that first sit-down," he explained. (Good Morning America won out.) "He calls, and I was like 'So, how is your day going?' And he was like 'Well, I just got off the phone with two Presidents and Oprah, so pretty good.'" (Both President Barack Obama and President Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea went to Stanford with Collins, applauded the athlete's decision to come out.)
Bass continued: "I told him, look -- this is what I wish would have happened when I came out...because when I came out, I had 24 hours to decide what was going to happen, because basically the magazine said 'We're doing it with or without you.' So I had 24 hours to decide to do this interview and I did…and I thought it went great. But what I wish I could have done back then was to have a couple of days to sit down with HRC, sit down with GLAAD...because back then...[it was just] like Jason told me today, 'I don't really know many gay people, because all my life has been is sports, [and] I've had such a crazy schedule I never had to think about my private life.'"
"So I gave him some really great connections," Bass said. "He's going to sit down with GLAAD today...and get some really good information...so he doesn't put his foot in his mouth, say something that he's going to regret...This will live [on] for the rest of his life, and he'll always have this first sit-down to look back on -- and he wants to make sure it's good."
Collins, for his part, said in his Sports Illustrated story that he never intended to make history. "I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport," he wrote. "But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation."