Editor’s note: isaac humphries is a professional basketball player for Melbourne United, part of the Australian National Basketball League (NBL). He previously played college basketball for the Kentucky Wildcats. The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. Read more opinions on CNN.
One of the best feelings in the world is playing a game of professional basketball in top form.
You can perform in front of almost 10,000 people a night; They’re cheering your name, they’re wearing your jersey. And all while throwing a powerful dunk and flexing into the crowd.
Well, it should be the best feeling in the world, right? And for a brief moment, I suppose it was.
That was in 2020. I was 22 years old and played for the Adelaide 36ers, two years before I signed with my current team, Melbourne United.
Now imagine what happens when all that adrenaline comes to an end after a game. For me, the euphoria was gone the moment I stepped out of the arena. I would arrive at my apartment in Henley Beach, a seaside suburb of Adelaide, and be alone.
I felt like I had no choice but to be alone. That’s when my wave of depression hit the hardest.
For my entire career, there was no reality where I could be an openly gay man while playing basketball. Until now.
I’ve played everywhere: Kentucky, the NBA, Europe, the Aussie team, and it’s the same thing: for the most part, being an athlete at that level is about making money, dating girls, and being the best basketball player you can be. . be.
So I fell in line, no matter how awkward and weird doing so made me feel. I just wanted to fit in and not attract attention. There were hardly any examples of a professional men’s basketball player doing anything more than that, so I resigned myself to the fact that my real life would begin after I retired.
My depression got so bad that the thought of not making it to retirement became a very real possibility.
There was one night in late 2020 when my loneliness, self-hatred, and shame finally took their toll, and I decided it would hurt less to take my own life. Unfortunately he had decided that it was the end. It was only when I woke up the next morning that I realized what I hadn’t done.
I ended up starting that season like nothing happened. But halfway through some previous leg injuries caught up with me. They shut me down for the rest of the season and most of the next as well.
Simple things like getting up from a chair or walking up a flight of stairs, not to mention any explosive movements while gaming, became nearly impossible.
Part of the solution was to follow my strength and conditioning coach, Nik Popovic, to Los Angeles to continue my rehab. We had originally set up shop in Sydney to get me through my rehab, but he had just gotten a new job at the University of Southern California; he is the best in the business, so the only way to continue making progress on my knee repair was to join him there.
LA has always been my favorite place in the world. In addition to my basketball career, I’m also a musician, so I’ve been very lucky to have spent a lot of time there and developed a network of friends and peers.
Being in Los Angeles over the years also gave me my first experiences seeing members of the LGBTQ+ community in a positive light.
Growing up in Australia, I went to an all-boys private school from the age of 13, where there was an unspoken expectation that everyone was straight, and that was the end of the conversation. Add in the competitive sports world that I was a part of, and there were really no avenues for me to see members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Things didn’t change when I became a professional basketball player; LGBTQ+ representation had rarely been there in top-tier male-dominated sports, where it is usually seen as a minus point of difference. Anyone who has ever been in a locker room understands the feelings that float around. There’s the unintentional derogatory slang and ridiculing anything with a gay connotation.
In LA, it was completely different. I was surrounded by some of the most successful people in the world, from musicians, film and television producers, media personalities, A-list celebrities, and I was able to see that being openly gay can come with joy.
For the first time in my life, I saw that people at the top of their game can be open and honest about who they are, and it came with visceral and contagious happiness.
So while I was in Los Angeles in 2021 to heal my injuries, I was also able to experience more about the LGBTQ+ community. It was mostly through making friends who were openly gay and unequivocally themselves – shame wasn’t even a consideration.
I learned a lot about the experiences people in our community go through, and was surprised by the number of stories that were eerily similar to my own.
I saw that being open about who you are can be the most liberating thing a person can do. Being gay no longer came with shame; it came with liberation.
No one hid who they were. And it created the happiest, most positive environment that I didn’t know existed.
That’s what I hope sports become. I want it to be a place where anyone can push themselves to be awesome, without fear of backlash just because of who you are.
You can be a gay man and an elite basketball player in one of the best leagues in the world. I am living proof of that.
My journey to get to this point in my life was harder than it should have been, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Without those dark spots, I wouldn’t have been put in situations where I had to explore, discover, and learn to accept who I really am.
If there are negatives that come with my decision to come out, I’ll take those quills so others don’t have to; as long as it means that we move forward on the path and that the children in particular feel that they can be whoever they want to be.
I am very lucky to be able to do this with this Melbourne United team. It says a lot about the club that I really feel so comfortable doing this with them. For other sports teams, create environments that are welcoming to people of different sexualities, religions, and races. Not only is it the right thing to do, but I promise you’ll get the most out of every person in your organization.
I would also encourage a little more empathy across the board. A comment here or there might seems funny in the moment, and a sentiment that might be considered anti-gay might seem harmless in the grand scheme of things, but you never know who might be in the room with you and how it might affect that person.
I know what it’s like to grow up in an environment that doesn’t feel welcoming, and I want to do my part to make sure basketball is no longer one of them.