Editor’s note: Isaac Humphries He is a professional basketball player for Melbourne United in 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 reviews on CNN.
One of the best feelings in the world is playing a professional basketball game while in top form.
Every night you will perform in front of almost 10,000 people; they’re cheering your name, wearing your jersey. And all while throwing a powerful boot and flexing to the crowd.
Well, it should be the best feeling in the world, right? And for a brief moment, I think it was.
That was in 2020. I was 22 and playing for the Adelaide 36ers, two years before signing for my current club, Melbourne United.
Now imagine what happens after a game when all that adrenaline wears off. For me, the euphoria was gone the moment I left the arena. I would get home to my apartment in Henley Beach on Adelaide’s coast, and I would be alone.
I felt I had no choice but to be myself. Then my wave of depression would be the worst.
Throughout my career, there was no reality that I could be an open man while playing basketball. Until now
I’ve played everywhere – Kentucky, the NBA, Europe, the Australian national team – and it doesn’t matter: for the most part, being an athlete at this level is about making money, hooking up with girls, and being the best basketball player you can be. be
So I fell in line, no matter how awkward and weird I felt doing it. I wanted to fit in and not draw attention to myself. There were hardly any professional basketball players doing anything other than that, so I was retired knowing that my real life would begin after I retired.
My depression became so severe that the idea of not making it to retirement became a very real possibility.
There was one night towards the end of 2020 where my loneliness, self-hatred and shame finally kicked in, and I decided that taking my own life would hurt less. I regretfully decided it was the end. It wasn’t until I woke up the next day that I realized what I hadn’t done.
I ended up starting like there was nothing wrong with that season. But halfway through, I got caught up with some front leg injuries. I was shut down for the rest of the season and the next as well.
Simple things like standing up from a chair or climbing a flight of stairs, let alone any explosive movement while playing, became nearly impossible.
Part of the fix was to follow my strength and conditioning coach, Nik Popovic, to Los Angeles to continue my rehabilitation. We originally set up shop in Sydney for my rehab, but he just got a new gig at the University of Southern California; he’s the best in the business, so the only way I could keep moving forward with fixing my knee was to join him.
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 fortunate to spend a lot of time there and develop a network of friends and peers.
Being in LA over the years also gave me my first experience of seeing members of the LGBTQ+ community in a positive light.
Growing up in Australia, I went to an all-boys private school at 13, where there was an unspoken expectation that everyone was straight, and that’s where the conversation ended. Enter the world of competitive sports that I was a part of, and there was really no way to see members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Things didn’t change when I became a professional basketball player; LGBTQ+ representation was rarely present in elite men’s sports, where inequality is generally seen as a negative point. Anyone who has been in a locker room understands the feelings that go around. There’s unintentionally derogatory slang, and making fun of anything with a gay flavor.
In LA, it was completely different. I was around some of the most successful people in the world (musicians, TV and film producers, media personalities, A-list celebrities) and saw that being openly gay can come with joy.
I saw for the first time in my life that people at the top of their game can be open and honest about who they are, and that came with a visceral and contagious happiness.
So while I was in LA in 2021 to heal my injuries, I also got to experience more of being around the LGBTQ+ community. Mostly it was by making friends who were gay and definitely were, shame wasn’t even a consideration.
I learned a lot about the experiences of people in our community, and I was amazed at the number of stories that were similar to my own.
I found that being open about who you are can be the most freeing thing a person can do. Being gay no longer came with shame; came with liberation.
No one hid who they were. And it created the happiest and most positive environment I had ever known.
That’s what I hope the sport is. I want it to be a place where anyone can strive to be amazing, without fear of backlash just for being you.
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.
The journey to get to this point in my life was harder than it needed to be, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Without those dark spots, I wouldn’t have put myself in situations where I had to explore, discover and learn to accept who I really am.
If there are negative aspects that come with the decision to come out, I will take those branches so that others do not have to; as long as it means that we make progress along the way and especially the children feel that it can be what they want.
I’m lucky to be able to do this with this Melbourne United team. It says a lot about the club that I feel really comfortable doing this with them. Create environments that welcome other sports teams, people of different sexualities, faiths, races. I promise you that it’s not only the right thing to do, but it will get the most out of everyone in your organization.
I would also encourage a little more empathy. Maybe a comment here or there it seems like fun in the moment, and a sentiment that might be considered anti-gay may appear 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 feels like to grow up in an environment that doesn’t feel welcoming, and I want to do my part to make sure basketball isn’t one of those.