Opinion: Why Australia’s Isaac Humphries is ready to tell the world he is gay

Editor’s Note: Isaac Humphries is a professional basketball player for Melbourne United, part of Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL). He previously played college basketball for the Kentucky Wildcats. The views expressed in this comment are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.


One of the best feelings in the world is playing a game of professional basketball while in top form.

Isaac Humphries

He gets to sing in front of nearly 10,000 people a night; they rejoice in your name, they wear your jersey. And every time he drops a powerful dunk and turns on the crowd.

Well, it must be the best feeling in the world, right? And for a moment, I think it was.

It was 2020. I was 22 and playing with the Adelaide 36ers, two years before I signed with my current club, Melbourne United.

Now imagine what happens when all that adrenalin wears off after the game. For me, the excitement ended when I left the field. I would come home to my apartment on Adelaide’s Henley Beach, and be alone.

I felt I had no choice but to be alone. This is when my depression would hit the hardest.

Throughout my 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 Australian national team – and it’s all the same: mostly, being an athlete at that level is about making money, dating girls and being the best basketball player you can be. because.

So I fell in line, no matter how hard and amazing I felt doing it. I just wanted to go in and not draw attention to myself. There were almost no examples of a male basketball player doing anything other than that, so I resigned myself to the fact that my real life would begin after I retired.

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Melbourne United's Isaac Humphries shoots during an NBL match against the Cairns Taipans in October.

My depression became so bad that the thought of not being able to retire became a real possibility.

There was a night in late 2020 when my loneliness, self-loathing and shame took over, and I decided it would hurt less to take my own life. Unfortunately I had decided it was over. When I woke up the next day I realized what I had not done.

I finished that season like nothing was wrong. But in the middle of it, I got an early leg injury. I was banned for the rest of the season and most of the following.

Simple things like standing up from a chair or climbing stairs – let alone any explosive movements while playing – became almost impossible.

Part of the recovery was following my strength and conditioning coach, Nik Popovic, to Los Angeles to continue my rehab. We had originally set up shop in Sydney so I could go through my rehab but he had just got a new gig at the University of Southern California; he is the best in the business so the only way for me to continue making progress on my knee repair was to join him there.

LA has always been my favorite place in the world. On top of my basketball career, I’m also a musician, so I was fortunate to spend a lot of time there and developed 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.

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Growing up in Australia, I went to an all-male private school from about the age of 13, where there was an implicit expectation that everyone was straight – and that was the end of the conversation. I missed out on the world sports competition I was a part of, and there was no way to see members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Things didn’t change when I became a famous basketball player; LGBTQ+ Representation was rare in male-dominated elite sports, where it was seen as a negative point of difference. Anyone who has ever been in a locker room understands the emotions that go around. There is unintentionally derogatory slang, and mockery of anything with gay connotations.

In LA, it was completely different. I was among the most successful people in the world – everyone from musicians, TV and film producers, media personalities, A-list celebrities – and I saw 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 that comes with a joy that is palpable and contagious.

So while I was in LA in 2021 to heal my injuries, I got to experience a lot of being around the LGBTQ+ community. It was mostly done by friends who were openly gay and themselves – shame was not a consideration.

I learned a lot about the experiences of people in our community, and I was surprised by many stories like mine.

I realized that being open about who you are can be the most liberating thing a person can do. Being gay was no longer shameful; it came with freedom.

No one hid who they were. And it made the happiest place, the most beautiful place I never knew existed.

That’s what I hope games can be. I want it to be a place where anyone can strive to be amazing, without fear of being held back because of who they are.

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Isaac Humphries in action during the match between Melbourne United and South East Melbourne Phoenix earlier this month.

You can be a gay man and a great basketball player on one of the best teams 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 marks, I would never have been put in situations where I had to explore, discover and learn to accept who I really am.

If there are unpleasant issues that come with my decision to come out, I will take those barbs so others don’t have to; that means we are making progress along the way and children especially feel they can be whoever they want.

I am lucky to be able to do this with this team at Melbourne United. It says a lot about the club that I really feel comfortable doing this with them. For some sports teams out there, create an environment that welcomes people of different sexes, religions, races. It’s not a good thing to do, but I promise you’ll get a lot out of everyone in your organization.

I would also like to encourage more empathy on the board. Comment here or say so it seems funny at the moment, and an opinion 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 a place where you don’t feel welcome, and I want to do my part to make sure basketball is no longer one of them.


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