TORONTO – NBA player Jason Collins has come out as the first active openly gay male athlete in the four major professional American sport leagues.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” wrote Collins in a Sports Illustrated article published online Monday.
Collins has played for six professional teams in 12 seasons, and participated in two NBA Finals. He finished the season with the Washington Wizards and is now a free agent, “literally and figuratively.”
Several male athletes have previously come out after they retired, but Collins is the first to do so while planning to keep playing.
Collins said he started thinking about coming out during the NBA player lockout in 2011, which broke his routine and forced him to “confront who I really am and what I really want,” according to the SI.com article.
The pro basketball player spoke of past experience dating women, and becoming jealous of a friend who marched in Boston’s Gay Pride Parade. He said the recent bombings at the marathon “reinforced” the notion that he shouldn’t wait for perfect circumstances to come out with the truth.
U.S. President Barack Obama reached out to offer his support after the NBA veteran came out as gay.
Obama called Collins on Monday, hours after Collins became the first active male player in the four major American professional sports to come out.
Obama told Collins he was impressed by his courage. That’s according to a White House official who was not authorized to discuss the private conversation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Earlier Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Collins’ decision was another example of progress and evolution in the U.S. as Americans grow more accepting of gay rights and same-sex marriage.
Minutes after news broke of Collins’ revelation, former U.S. president Bill Clinton—whose daughter, Chelsea, was friends with the basketball player at Stanford University—shared his support in a statement:
“Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community. It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities. For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive. I hope that everyone, particularly Jason’s colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned.”
The NBA also shared their support via Twitter, calling Collins and his twin brother Jarron “exemplary members of the NBA family.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney added support from the White House, calling Collins’ decision courageous. Carney said he hopes the NBA player’s colleagues will also offer support.
“We view that as another example of the progress that has been made and the evolution that has been taking place in this country,” Carney said.
Several NBA players seemed to take Carney’s advice, with Kobe Bryant tweeting he was proud of Collins.
“Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others,” said Bryant’s post, followed by the words “courage” and “support.”
Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said: “We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career. Those qualities will continue to serve him both as a player and as a positive role model for others of all sexual orientation.”
With files from The Associated Press
© Shaw Media, 2013