An NBA center has become the first male athlete who actively plays in a major American professional sports league to come out as gay.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center,” Jason Collins wrote in a Sports Illustrated op-ed that will appear in the magazine’s May 6 issue. “I’m black. And I’m gay.”
Collins, a free agent whom the Boston Celtics traded to the Washington Wizards in February, has also played for the Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Jersey Nets. He and his twin brother Jarron were also teammates at Stanford University.
Collins said the first relative to whom he came out was his aunt, who is a judge in San Francisco. He wrote he told his brother last summer; but he “realized he needed to go public” about his sexual orientation after Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy, with whom he lived at Stanford, told him he had marched in last year’s Boston Pride parade.
The southern California native, who said he chose to wear the number 98 with the Celtics and the Wizards in solidarity with Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who two men beat to death in 1998, added the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15 “reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect.” He said he plans to march with Kennedy in Boston’s Pride parade on June 8.
“I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie,” Collins wrote. “I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back.”
NBA Commissioner David Stern praised Collins in a statement.
“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,” he said.
“We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld added. “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.”
Retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, who came out in 1981, is among those who applauded Collins.
“Well done Jason Collins,” she said in a tweet. “You are a brave man.”
The Boston Red Sox, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, Ricky Martin, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the White House also praised the NBA center.
“Kudos to you for taking a stand that will help untold numbers of kids and allies,” D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said on his Twitter account. “As a longtime LGBT ally, I salute you.”
LGBT athletes continue to gain visibility
While he is the first active male member of a major U.S. professional sports league to come out, Collins is not the first athlete to publicly disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Former NFL players David Kopay, Roy Simmons, Esera Tuaolo and Wade Davis all came out after they left the league.
Former NBA center John Amaechi, former tennis player Billie Jean King, former Olympic diver Greg Louganis and figure skater Johnny Weir are among those who have publicly declared their homosexuality.
Former George Washington University basketball player Kye Allums came out as transgender in a 2010 interview with Outsports.com, an LGBT-themed sports website. Gay Puerto Rican boxer Orlando “Fenómeno” Cruz acknowledged his homosexuality for the first time last October. Baylor University basketball player Brittney Griner came out as a lesbian during a Sports Illustrated interview earlier this month after the Phoenix Mercury picked her during the WNBA draft.
Professional soccer player Robbie Rogers in February came out as gay on the same day he announced his retirement from the sport.
Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings remain outspoken LGBT allies as they continue to speak out in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues.
Cyd Zeigler, Jr., co-founder of Outsports.com, referenced Kopay, who publicly disclosed his homosexuality in 1975 after his retirement from the NFL, when he discussed Collins’ coming out.
“We knew this day would come,” he told the Washington Blade. “We didn’t know if it would be this week or next year. It’s a brave thing he’s done, and I get the feeling that, unlike David Kopay 40 years ago, this may open the door to many more in the near future when everyone sees this work out great.”
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin agreed.
“With his brave and honest announcement today, Jason Collins has forever changed the face of sports,” he said. “No longer will prejudice and fear force gay athletes to remain silent about a fundamental part of their lives. By coming out and living openly while still an active NBA player, 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.”