NBA center Jason Collins on Monday announced that he’s gay in a story for Sports Illustrated, becoming the first active player in a major American team sport to announce that he is gay.
“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,” Collins wrote. “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.”
NBA commissioner David Stern commended Collins for his announcement.
“As Adam Silver and I said to Jason, we have known the Collins family since Jason and Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family. 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 in a statement.
Jason’s twin brother, Jarron Collins, played for 10 seasons in the NBA, last with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2010-11.
The reaction of other active players has always been a question when it comes to an athlete in a major sport coming out. Other players don’t get any bigger than Kobe Bryant, who tweeted his support Monday.
“Proud of @jasoncollins34,” the tweet read. “Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU”
While Bryant was accepting of Collins, NFL players Mike Wallace and Alphonso Smith were among athletes to take a dissenting tone on Twitter.
Wallace deleted two tweets about the subject, then later wrote, “never said anything was right or wrong I just said I don’t understand!! Deeply sorry for anyone that I offended.”
Smith, meanwhile, wrote in a series of tweets that, “it’s a shame I have to apologize for my TRUE feelings.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney called Collins courageous and said the White House supports Collins and views his decision as another example of progress and evolution in the U.S. as Americans grow more accepting of gay rights and same-sex marriage. Last year, during his re-election campaign, President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage.
Former President Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea attended Stanford with Collins, also applauded Collins’ announcement.
“Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community,” he said in a statement. “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 34-year-old Collins, who is a free agent, ended last season with the Washington Wizards after being traded by the Boston Celtics.
“Now I’m a free agent, literally and figuratively. I’ve reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball,” he wrote. “I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful.”
Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld issued a statement on behalf of the team:
“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.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said in a statement that he was “extremely happy and proud” of Collins.
“He is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite ‘team’ players I have ever coached. If you have learned anything from Jackie Robinson, it is that teammates are always the first to accept. It will be society who has to learn tolerance. One of my favorite sayings is, ‘I am who I am, are whom we are, can be what I want to be, its not up to you, it’s just me being me,’ ” Rivers said.
Collins has an endorsement deal with Nike, which issued a succinct statement of support.
“Jason is a Nike athlete. We are a company committed to diversity and inclusion,” it read.
Collins wrote that he first considered coming out during the 2011 NBA lockout, which interrupted his routine and “forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want.”
He said the first relative he told he was gay was his aunt Teri, who is a superior court judge in San Francisco. He said she told him, “I’ve known you were gay for years,” which made him “comfortable in my own skin.”
Collins said he realized he needed to make his sexual orientation public when his former roommate at Stanford, Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy, who is straight, marched in Boston’s Gay Pride Parade last year.
The Boston Marathon bombings earlier this month then reinforced to him “that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?
“When I told Joe a few weeks ago that I was gay, he was grateful that I trusted him. He asked me to join him in 2013. We’ll be marching on June 8,” Collins wrote.
Collins said that he told his brother during a breakfast meeting last summer.
“He never suspected. So much for twin telepathy,” Collins wrote. “But by dinner that night, he was full of brotherly love. For the first time in our lives, he wanted to step in and protect me.”
Collins says he quietly made a statement for gay rights even while keeping his sexual orientation a secret. He wore No. 98 with the Celtics and Wizards — 1998 was the year that Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming, was killed, and the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization, was founded.
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.
Collins’ statement is quickly showing signs of resonating.
He picked up more followers on Twitter in the hour after his story than in his previous 430 days on the social networking site, going from 3,700 to over 9,000. A short time later @jasoncollins34 was over 13,000 followers.
Several male athletes have previously come out after they retired, including the NBA’s John Amaechi, the NFL’s Esera Tuaolo and Major League Baseball’s Billy Bean. But Collins is the first to do so while planning to continue playing.
Professional soccer player Robbie Rogers, who publicly came out early this year, tweeted, “I feel a movement coming,” in reaction to Collins’ announcement.
Advocacy organization GLAAD released a statement from Aaron McQuade, the head of its sports program.
“Courage’ and ‘inspiration’ are words that get thrown around a lot in sports, but Jason Collins has given both ideas a brand new context,” he said. “We hope that his future team will welcome him, and that fans of the NBA and sports in general will applaud him. We know that the NBA will proudly support him, and that countless young LGBT athletes now have a new hero.”
The co-founders of You Can Play, a Denver-based non-profit organization advocating for equal treatment for LGBT athletes, coaches and fans, also saluted Collins.
“A man with a big heart, speaking a couple of small words, has helped change the course of sports,” co-founder Brian Kitts said. “Saying ‘I’m gay’ sets a new standard of honesty, openness and teamwork that will positively affect athletes and fans at every level of sports.”
Co-founders Patrick Burke and Glenn Witman, meanwhile, hailed Collins as a “role model.”