Editor’s note: Isaac Humphries is a professional basketball player for Melbourne United, part of the National Basketball League (NBL). He played college football for the Kentucky Wildcats. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more thoughts on CNN.
One of the best feelings in the world is playing professional basketball while in top form.
You will perform in front of almost 10,000 people in one night; they rejoice in your name, they wear your shirt. And every time you throw down a powerful dunk and flex to the crowd.
Well, it should be the best feeling in the world, right? And for a while, I thought that was it.
That was in 2020. I was 22 and played with the Adelaide 36ers, two years before I joined my current team, Melbourne United.
Now imagine what happens when all the adrenalin comes to an end after a game. For me, the joy was gone the moment I left the arena. I would come home to my house in Adelaide on Henley Beach, be alone.
I feel like I have nothing else to do but be alone. That’s when I feel the worst.
Throughout my career, there has never been a reality where I could be openly gay while playing basketball. Until now.
I’ve played everywhere – Kentucky, the NBA, Europe, the Australian national team – and it’s the same: for the most part, being an athlete at that level is about making money, marrying girls and being the best basketball player you can. be.
So I fell in line, no matter how I felt about it. I just wanted to fit in and not draw any attention to myself. It’s almost the epitome of a male basketball player doing anything other than that, so I ran away from the fact that my real life was going to start after I retired.
I was so depressed that the thought of not retiring became a real possibility.
There was one night at the end of 2020 when my loneliness, self-loathing and shame finally got the better of me and I decided it wouldn’t hurt to kill myself. Unfortunately I decided 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 the season like nothing was wrong. But in it, some injured legs before I was caught. I was covered for the rest of the season and many more to follow as well.
Simple things like getting up from a chair or going up the stairs – let alone any explosives while playing – became impossible.
Part of that improvement is following my strength with the head coach, Nik Popovic, in Los Angeles to continue the recovery. We originally set up shop in Sydney to get through my gym but he just got a new track at the University of Southern California; he is the best in the business so the only way I can continue to improve my knee is to join him there.
LA is my favorite place in the world. On top of my basketball career, I’m also a musician, so I’m glad I spent a lot of time there and created a network of friends and peers.
Living in LA for many years also gave me my first experience of seeing the LGBTQ+ community in a positive light.
Growing up in Australia, I went to an all-boys private school from about the age of 13, where there was an incredible expectation that everyone be straight – and that was the end of the conversation. Throw in the world of pageantry I was a part of, and there was no way I could see LGBTQ+ members.
Things didn’t change when I became a basketball player; LGBTQ+ representation has never been in male-dominated sports, where it is often seen as a negative aspect of difference. Everyone who has been in a locker room understands the feeling of floating. There is unintentional profanity, and mockery of anything with gay connotations.
In LA, it’s very different. I’ve been around some of the most successful people in the world – everyone from musicians, television and film producers, broadcasters, A-list celebrities – and 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 could be open and honest about who they were, and that came with a visceral and contagious happiness.
So being in LA in 2021 to deal with my injuries, I also got more experience being in the LGBTQ+ community. It’s often by making friends who are openly gay themselves – shame not attention.
I learned a lot about the experiences of people in our community, and I was surprised at how many stories were similar to my own.
I find that expressing who you are can be the most liberating thing one can do. Being gay no longer comes with shame; it came with a release.
No one hides who they are. And it made it the happiest place, the best I didn’t realize existed.
That’s what I hope the game can become. I want it to be a place where everyone can strive to be amazing, without fear of backlash just for being who you are.
You can be a gay and famous soccer player in one of the best leagues in the world. I show that.
My journey to get to this point in my life was harder than it should have been, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Without those dark points, I would not have been put in a position where I had to explore, discover and learn to accept who I really am.
If there are negative aspects to my decision to come out, I will take those barbs so others don’t; as long as it means that we are making progress in the way that children especially think that they can be whoever they want.
I am very happy to be able to do this with Melbourne United. It says a lot about the club and it feels really good to do this with them. To other team members out there, create an environment that welcomes people of different sexes, religions, races. Not only is it the right thing to do, but I guarantee you’ll get the best out of everyone in your organization for it.
I would also advocate for empathy across the board. A word here or there is possible as funny as it is nowadays, and feelings that might be considered anti-gay may seem harmless in the grand scheme of things – but you never know who might be in the room with you and how it may affect that person.
I know what it’s like to grow up in an environment I don’t like, and I want to do my part to make sure basketball is no longer one of them.