Jason Collins reveals he is gay in Sports Illustrated
UPDATED 7:42 p.m.: Before Monday many never heard of Jason Collins, but today he just might be the most influential player in sports.
Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, became the first active major male American athlete in a team sport to come out of the closet.
Almost immediately after Collins' Sports Illustrated essay hit the Web Monday, LGBT groups and supporters praised the 34-year-old free agent. President Barack Obama even called Collins to offer his support, commending him for his courage.
Jimmy van Bramer, an openly gay member city councilman representing Long Island City, said he was surprised because he never thought an active sports player would have the courage to be open about his homosexuality.
Van Bramer predicted this will be the start of a positive domino effect.
"His coming out will make it easier and more likely for others to come out. The first is always the hardest," he said.
Collins, a veteran who has played for several teams including the New Jersey Nets, said he wanted to "start the conversation," about homosexuality in professional sports.
"If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand," he wrote in the magazine's cover story.
Collins, a center who played for the Washington Wizards this year, said he began mulling making an announcement since last year's NBA lockout and made his decision after the Boston bombings, saying "things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?"
He added that his family, which includes his twin brother Jarron who also played in the NBA, fully supports him.
"My relatives have told me repeatedly that as long as I'm happy, they're there for me," he wrote.
He's expected to talk more about his decision Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Collins' basketball family also congratulated his decision to come out. NBA Commissioner David Stern praised the player's essay and said it would help make the sports world progressive.
"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 in a statement.
Knicks star Jason Kidd was one of many NBA players and American athletes who congratulated Collins on Twitter.
"Jason's sexuality doesn't change the fact that he is a great friend and was a great teammate," he tweeted.
Not all athletes were as supportive.
Miami Dolphin Mike Wallace deleted a tweet that read "All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH," before apologizing and tweeting "Never said anything was right or wrong I just said I don't understand!!"
Brian Silva, the executive director for the New York-based LGBT rights group Marriage Equality USA, said the overwhelmingly positive reaction sends a powerful message to other gay athletes that it's OK to be open about your sexual orientation.
"There's a perception that athletes are more homophobic than the general population, but as we have seen there are athletes who say that they respect their teammates no matter what their sexuality," he said. Silva predicted the growing support among athletes and celebrities will lead to federal laws that would prohibit sexual discrimination in the workplace.
(with Scott Fontana)
Excerpts from Jason's SI essay
On why he decided to come out publicly
The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion 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?
On how he felt after coming out to friends and family
No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. 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.
On his expectations from players and fans
As I write this, I haven’t come out to anyone in the NBA. I'm not privy to what other players say about me. Maybe Mike Miller, my old teammate in Memphis, will recall the time I dropped by his house in Florida and say, “I enjoyed being his teammate, and I sold him a dog.” I hope players swap stories like that. Maybe they’ll talk about my character and what kind of person I am.
As far as the reaction of fans, I don’t mind if they heckle me. 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.
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’m not the loudest person in the room, but I’ll speak up when something isn’t right. And try to make everyone laugh.
(Courtesy of Sports ILLUSTRATED)