Collins' delivered a powerful, yet simple message: Be authentic ... and listen to your heart

Mohegan — Jason Collins, who in Aug. 2013 became the first active male athlete in any of the four major North American professional sports to announce publicly he was gay, spent the weekend in our corner of the world.

He left us with a gentle voice resounding throughout our minds. And more importantly our hearts, with messages that bore inspiring tentacles, reaching a gym full of New London kids and later an arena full of basketball fans.

Poignant, powerful, persuasive.

Collins, 38, is a Stanford-educated man and former center in the National Basketball Association. He told the children of the city and fans at Mohegan Sun Arena on "Pride Night" to "live your authentic life." He used "authentic" frequently, a word that continues to resonate, even now that he's off to another city.

In other words: Listen to your heart. Or in the words of mystic Younus AlGohar: "The faith is lost when the mind wins over the heart."

Time Magazine should go to the window and collect for naming Collins one of the world's 100 most influential people a few years ago. It still applies. His courage to announce he was gay amid the homophobia that hovers about professional sports was noble and noteworthy. But his underlying message of authenticity through change affects us all. Every single one of us. Every single day.

"When I told my mom I was gay, the first thing she said was 'What did I do?'" Collins said. "My mom has changed a lot. She'd probably like to kick the crap out of the person she was 20 years ago. That's the one thing I've learned the most. People who say their feelings will never change, whether about another person, a relationship or a circumstance, are lying to themselves. You're never too old to grow as a human being."

And that's it, really: The only constant in our lives is change, as inevitable as time's passage. A story once written about Collins featured this quote from explorer Christopher McCandless that applies to so many of us — and why Collins' message is a necessary, refreshing reminder:

"So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation," McCandless said, "because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality, nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit."

Collins was brave enough to reach out, much like two female athletes he idolizes from a different era: Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King. Their courage, in a much less tolerant time, still inspires Collins. And the power of reaching out has run like a current among Navratilova, King, Collins ... and student Tyrel Fluker of New London.

Fluker assumed the challenge quite seriously from his teacher, Baylee Howard. Activism: Pick a topic you care about and bring it to people's attention. Fluker chose Collins and his courage. And darn, if the universe didn't respond as it always does:

Fluker's work was good enough to make a display at Connecticut College.

Kia Baird, a board member for OutCT, a non-profit that create opportunities for integrating and promoting positive visibility for the LGBT community, saw it.

Collins was about to come to Connecticut anyway for "Pride Night" at Mohegan Sun Arena.

And darn, if a few days later, Collins wasn't talking to the kids of our city.

Who knows how many of our kids harbor the same feelings Collins did as a kid? Who knows how many he inspired? Who knows how many will have the courage now to reach out?

Who knows how many of them will summon the courage to change and live their authentic lives?

This, folks, is called real life.

And a practical application of education for our kids that ought to have other school systems taking notice.

Here is what we learned this weekend:

Jason Collins is one effortlessly cool dude.

He inspired us. He taught us. Most of all, though, he challenged us: Are we our authentic selves? Remember: It's not what you tell work colleagues around the water cooler or even family members around the dinner table.

It's what we tell ourselves.

Are we courageous enough to reach out and affect change?

Are we courageous enough to listen to our hearts and change relationships and circumstances?

Powerful stuff.

Bravo to you, Baylee Howard, Tyrel Fluker and Jason Collins.

And thanks.

You give us all a reason to think.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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