NBA center Jason Collins on Monday announced that he’s gay in a story for Sports Illustrated, becoming the first active player in one of the four major American professional team sports to announce that he is gay.
Collins, a 12-year player in the National Basketball Association (NBA), became the first active athlete from any of the four major U.S. men’s professional sports leagues to come out publicly as gay.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” Collins wrote.
He continued: “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.
“ I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
As to why he opted to address his sexuality now, Collins says that he was partly inspired by the Boston Marathon bombings, adding that “it takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret.”
He was inspired by last year’s gay pride parade in Boston, he said, but delayed making an announcement due to a desire to protect his team, waiting until the end of the regular 2012-2013 season ended.
Collins’ move came at a time of shifting attitudes toward gay rights in the United States, where polls show public opinion is fast moving toward greater acceptance, although a core of social conservatives oppose such change, says Reuters.
Collins’ news has attracted high-profile support from his NBA family as well as other celebrities, including Kobe Bryant and Bill Clinton.
LA Lakers star Kobe Bryant was among the first current NBA stars to comment. Two years ago Byrant was fined for using a gay slur against a referee during a game. He later apologised and went on to tackle a fan for using “gay” as a term of abuse.
Team-mates at the Washington Wizards also offered their support. In an official team statement, the Wizards said they were “extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly”.
Clinton released a full message, too:
“I have known Jason Collins since he was Chelsea’s classmate and friend at Stanford. Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community.”
The NBA Players Association also said in a statement that it supported Collins.
“We congratulate Jason for having the courage to ‘raise his hand,’ as he wrote in his story, and start the conversation.”
First lady Michelle Obama and NBA Commissioner David Stern also chimed in via Twitter, as did many other big names from around the Twittersphere.
“So proud of you, Jason Collins! This is a huge step forward for our country. We’ve got your back! –mo,” wrote Mrs. Obama
“Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue,” Stern said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the announcement was “another example of the progress that has been made and the evolution that has been taking place in this country.”
Collins was blown away by the support he received.
“All the support I have received today is truly inspirational,” he wrote on Twitter. “I knew that I was choosing the road less traveled but I’m not walking it alone.”
In 713 career games with the New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Celtics and Wizards, Collins has averaged 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds, writes ESPN.