Back in 1985, Gatorade established an award honoring the nation's top high school student-athletes. Since then, the Gatorade Player of the Year award has recognized more than 12,500 state and national winners in 12 sports.
Gatorade Player of the Year alumni include household names like Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, Candace Parker, Kerri Walsh and Abby Wambach — a distinguished group, indeed.
This week, we're taking a look at a host of former POYs who publicly supported NBA center Jason Collins’ decision to announce this week that he is gay in a Sports Illustrated article.
With more than 1,500 rebounds in his prep career and an academic resume that ultimately helped get him into Stanford, Jason Collins certainly had the makings of a Gatorade Player of the Year.
Ironically, the man who ultimately beat him out for the honor —15-year NBA veteran point guard and 2006-07 Gatorade California Boys Basketball Player of the Year Baron Davis —felt compelled to publicly tip his cap to Collins this week.
Collins may not be a member of the Gatorade POY family, but he was certainly welcomed and congratulated by a number of other former winners who voiced their support. On Monday, Collins became the first active male athlete in any of the four major North American professional sports to publicly acknowledge that he is gay.
NBA All-Star and 2006-07 Gatorade National Athlete of the Year Kevin Love was just a 20-year-old rookie with the Minnesota Timberwolves when he was a teammate of Collins during the 2008-09 season. He also took to Twitter not long after Collins’ announcement.
“Happy for @jasoncollins34 in his decision,” Love tweeted. “A great teammate and friend. Thanks for helping me through my rookie season!! #classact #courage”
Collins split the 2012-13 season between playing for the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards. His decision to come out drew words of support from players on both teams, including 2010-11 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year Bradley Beal, who currently plays for the Wizards.
“Proud of @jasoncollins34 for expressing his feelings!” Beal wrote on Twitter. “Great teammate, mentor and better person!! #liveyourlife!”
Celtics All-Star, future NBA Hall of Famer and 1994-95 Gatorade California Boys Basketball Player of the Year Paul Pierce not only applauded Collins’ decision, he also indicated that it may lead to others finding the courage to do the same thing.
“I think it’s going to open a door to many more,” Pierce told reporters on Tuesday. “There are so many professional athletes, and human beings, that live a dark life that are afraid to expose it because it exposes your sport and what people might think about them. What he did was a great thing, to just open a door to a number of athletes that are going to have the courage to come out.”
One of the first players to publicly reassure Collins was 19-year NBA veteran and 1991-92 Gatorade North Carolina Boys Basketball Player of the Year Jerry Stackhouse, currently with the Brooklyn Nets, who indicated that Collins’ sexual orientation should have no effect in any NBA clubhouse.
“I hope Jason is received well by our NBA family,” Stackhouse wrote in a text to the Associated Press. “Jason is a friend and a former teammate that I've enjoyed many laughs and conversations with and his sexual orientation won't change that with me. I've already reached out to him personally to show support and will encourage more guys to do the same.”