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NBA Center Jason Collins Comes Out as First Openly Gay Male Athlete in Major US Pro Sports

Jason Collins gayFree agent NBA center Jason Collins has come out as the first openly gay male athlete in major US professional sports.

Collins came out in a piece he wrote with Franz Lidz for Sports Illustrated.

“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” Collins begins.

He continues: “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…”

Collins, who has played for six different teams— most recently the Washington Wizards– and appeared in two NBA Finals, said he chose now to come out because the 2011 player lockout “wreaked havoc on my habits and forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want.”

“With the season delayed, I trained and worked out. But I lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided,” Collins wrote.

Collins says the first relative he came out to was his aunt Teri, a San Francisco judge who told him she knew he was gay “for years.”

“From that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin,” Collins wrote. “In her presence I ignored my censor button for the first time. She gave me support. The relief I felt was a sweet release. Imagine you’re in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know — I baked for 33 years.”

“The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect,” Collins wrote. “Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?” He now plans to march in Boston’s June 8 Gay Pride parade.

Collins says “the that strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable in March, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage.”

“Less then three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard, and I couldn’t say a thing. I didn’t want to answer questions and draw attention to myself. Not while I was still playing.”

“I’m glad I’m coming out in 2013 rather than 2003,” he continues. “The climate has shifted; public opinion has shifted. And yet we still have so much farther to go. Everyone is terrified of the unknown, but most of us don’t want to return to a time when minorities were openly discriminated against. I’m impressed with the straight pro athletes who have spoken up so far — Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo. The more people who speak out, the better, gay or straight. It starts with President Obama’s mentioning the 1969 Stonewall riots, which launched the gay rights movement, during his second inaugural address. And it extends to the grade-school teacher who encourages her students to accept the things that make us different.”

As for how other NBA players will treat him now that’s he’s come out, Collins says he “has no idea” but that he “hopes for the best, but plans for the worst.”

“I hope players and coaches show me the same respect,” he writes. “…A good teammate supports you no matter what.”

“As far as the reaction of fans, I don’t mind if they heckle me,” Collins writes. “I’ve been booed before. There have been times when I’ve wanted to boo myself. But a lot of ill feelings can be cured by winning.”

“Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start,” asserts Collins. “It all comes down to education. I’ll sit down with any player who’s uneasy about my coming out. Being gay is not a choice…”

“The most you can do is stand up for what you believe in. I’m much happier since coming out to my friends and family. Being genuine and honest makes me happy…”

“I’m glad I can stop hiding and refocus on my 13th NBA season,” Collins concludes. “…In the pros, the older you get, the better shape you must be in. Next season a few more eyeballs are likely to be on me. That only motivates me to work harder.”

“Some people insist they’ve never met a gay person. But… no NBA player can claim that anymore. Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who’s gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who’s out.”

Just minutes after this story made headlines, Collins began receiving an outpouring of support from his fellow NBA players. Here are tweets from a few of them:

Jason Collins gay reactionFormer president Bill Clinton even weighed in on the issue:

“I have known Jason Collins since he was Chelsea’s classmate and friend at Stanford,” Clinton said 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,” Clinton continued. “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.”

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