Australian basketballer Isaac Humphries chats to QNews about his first year since coming out.
The 16th of November 2022 was the most important day of Isaac Humphries’ life.
He had recently joined National Basketball League (NBL) team Melbourne United and they were having their regular training like it was just any other day.
However, on the sidelines, a small team was posting a video to Isaac’s social media accounts on his behalf.
The clip was him coming out to his teammates earlier that week and now he would be doing the same to the world. It was a nerve-wracking experience for the then-24-year-old.
“It was just crazy that it was actually all happening while I was practising. I just kept looking over it and someone gave me a thumbs up like ‘going really well’ and that was it,” he tells me.
With the announcement, Isaac became the only active professional basketball player in the world to be out, so the video went truly viral.
“It just blew up so quickly. I walked off and I could have just sat there on my phone and scrolled and scrolled [through the notifications]. There were just phone calls from people I hadn’t heard from in years: old girlfriends, like really interesting people calling me and messaging me congratulations. And then, of course, I opened Instagram and socials and it just was mayhem,” he says.
The news went global, including in the United States, where he had played college basketball in Kentucky and for the NBA team Atlanta Hawks.
All the attention was incredibly positive, but it was also emotionally taxing for Isaac. He had spent years keeping this from the world and now everyone wanted him to speak about it non-stop.
“It was like the floodgates just opened to this huge secret that I had kept hidden for so long. It was very overwhelming and as the day went on, it got sort of a bit more and more emotional, there were a lot of tears.”
He didn’t have long to recover as he had a game the very next day where he knew the focus would be on him.
“There were pride flags in the crowd, huge cheers anytime I went anywhere near the ball. The overall feeling was just so much relief and gratitude that I got to just be me finally, and not have to hide when walking on the court the next day. I knew the whole arena was looking at me, but I didn’t care. I’m like, you’re looking at the real me for the first time ever,” he says proudly.
Although most of the media circus moved on, he’s still been very much in demand.
“The media thing took a while to die down. And then, on one hand, it almost didn’t as well. It just never really stopped. Honestly, unless I give myself a forced blackout period, it actually never ends,” he says laughing.
However, he is quick to point out he believes this has been a positive thing for him.
“On the other side, it gave me a really big platform and a really big voice to help people and work with some really great organisations.”
The story of the last twelve months has been one of opportunity.
On a personal level, he has been to the Australian Open with Ralph Lauren, met high-profile people at red-carpet events and even appeared on the cover of GQ which he says “was really cool, like a dream come true.”
However, the impact on people’s lives is the real driver for Isaac.
“I made it very clear when I did all of this, I wanted to use the exposure to help people. When you have a young teenage boy tell you that I’ve like literally saved their life, it just hits you a bit differently than a GQ cover, you know. They’re big moments that I don’t forget, and they definitely keep me going when things get a bit tricky,” he says.
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He recently became an ambassador for mental health non-profit R U OK? Day with a particular emphasis on helping young people and he is also working with Movember on men’s health.
His personal journey
It is important to remember that even though Isaac is a role model to many, he’s also finding his way in a new life as an out gay man.
During the year he attended his first-ever pride parade in Los Angeles and when I ask him about it, he has an immediate visceral reaction.
“I just got chills,” he says remembering the experience.
“I was crying a lot because I just couldn’t believe where I’d come from. A year before, I was living in LA trying to figure out who I was and then cut to a year later, I’ve come out to the whole world and I’m on a float and everyone’s cheering and waving. It was just a real flood of emotions and I was very proud to be up there, super proud. It was a really amazing moment for me.”
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What’s clear when talking to Isaac is that the last twelve months have been non-stop and he’s had very little rest.
I ask him if he’s had time to himself to self-reflect.
“Yeah, I don’t think I stop enough to even realise what’s coming or even understand what’s going on with me. I know I have to at some point, but I don’t know. It’s just, I’m kind of at a point in my life where I’m really not happy unless I’m out there doing stuff,” he says.
He then tells me of a recent travel experience with his new NBL team Adelaide 36ers where exhaustion eventually caught up with him.
“We got Monday off [after travelling] and I just actually laid in bed until like five o’clock, and I was like, wow, I haven’t done this for months and months and months and months.”
One outlet for Isaac is his music.
He has done it for many years, releasing and performing his work before and after he came out.
“Music has always been a love of mine, a huge passion. I’ve been working to try and make this balance between music and basketball for about ten years now and at first, no one understood it,” he says.
“People were like, ‘You’re a pro athlete, you’re going down this pro athlete lane, you have to focus on that’, you know, and I just kept trying to crack this mould that you have to only do this [one thing]. I just didn’t listen to anyone and showed them that I can absolutely do both,” he says.
Isaac recently released Be Alright as a charity single for RU OK? Day with more music and performances to come in the future.
I’m hesitant to lower the tone to find out about his romantic life and if he has a partner, but I forge ahead as it’s an integral part of the coming-out experience (and I know you’re all curious to find out).
“I was very open to like exploring dating once coming out because I thought for once I can actually do it openly and not have to hide so much because dating in the closet as a public figure is like really tricky,” he tells me.
But is he single?
“Very single and very just, like, doing my own thing. I just don’t have the time. If today I met someone and they were ‘Oh, would you like to grab a drink?’ I’d be ‘Yeah, next month maybe’, you know, I just don’t know, I don’t even have the time.”
That hasn’t stopped a flood of attention though.
“Obviously the DMs are just madness. And yeah, I don’t look at them half the time. But you come across some pretty funny ones. People are relentless!” he says cracking up. “But that’s okay, whatever. It’s very flattering.”
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When talking about the future of closeted athletes in sports, Isaac is realistic and understands why many still choose not to.
“It could be similar to my situation where that person’s not ready, not comfortable being themselves yet and don’t want to do that so publicly, because they aren’t even across it themselves,” he explains.
“That happens in sport, because when you’re so immersed in it, let’s be honest, and I’m okay saying it, but most sport is homophobic. Just some are more than others. But it just is what it is. Yes, we’re trying to change that mould, but like, it’s just a slow burn.”
Approaching his second year as an out young gay man, Isaac knows he needs time for himself.
“I want to take some blackout periods and travel and see my friends and just like have some fun. I’m tired!”
However, his plans still revolve around his passion for helping others.
“I want to keep working in the mental health space and in the nonprofit space. So I’ll continue my ambassadorship with R U OK? and we’re working on some really cool school things and stuff like that.”
It’s quite clear that Isaac understands the importance of his platform and he has given so much in his first year of living free.
There’s no doubt that he’ll continue that passion for our community for many years to come.
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