WASHINGTON – Jason Collins on Monday became the first active male player in a major American professional team sport to reveal he is gay — a groundbreaking disclosure greeted with broad support.
The 34-year-old free agent who has played for six NBA teams over the past 12 seasons, went public with his sexuality in an essay published on Sports Illustrated magazine’s website.
“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport,” Collins said. “But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”
Among those backing Collins was President Barack Obama.
“The president called Jason Collins to express his support and said he was impressed by his courage,” a White House aide told AFP.
Collins took to Twitter on Monday night with a message of gratitude.
“All the support I have received today is truly inspirational,” he said. “I knew that I was choosing the road less traveled but I’m not walking it alone.”
The revelation has drawn comparisons to the way the spotlight shone on Jackie Robinson back in 1947 when he became Major League Baseball’s first black player.
“Jason Collins has forever changed the face of sports,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. “No longer will prejudice and fear force gay athletes to remain silent about a fundamental part of their lives.
“Collins has courageously shown the world that one’s sexual orientation is no longer an impediment to achieving one’s goals, even at the highest levels of professional sports . . . Jason Collins is a hero for our own times.”
Still, Collins can expect homophobic taunts from NBA game hecklers the way Robinson endured racial insults without fighting back.
“I don’t mind if they heckle me. I’ve been booed before,” Collins said.
Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts, the highest-ranking NBA executive who is openly gay, said he was confident Collins would not have trouble landing a new contract because of his admission.
“He absolutely will receive more opportunities. More doors will open than close,” Welts tweeted. “I’m very proud of him. It was very courageous. This was an important step.
“It still is a big deal today,” he added. “There will be a day when it isn’t.”
Collins said he had no clue how his next NBA teammates might react knowing they share the locker room with a gay man, adding he would be willing to talk to any of them about the issue.
“Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start,” Collins said. “I’m a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst. I’m a veteran and I’ve earned the right to be heard.
“I’ll lead by example and show that gay players are no different from straight ones. I’ve taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn’t an issue before and it won’t be one now.”
Former President Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea was a friend of Collins at Stanford University, lauded his disclosure as historic.
“Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender) community,” Clinton said.
NBA commissioner David Stern, meanwhile, said “we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.”