First Openly Gay NBA Player: Jason Collins

Declaring his sexuality in an article for Sports Illustrated, NBA player Jason Collins has come out as gay.  The first male athlete in a major American professional team sport told writer Franz Lidz, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”

John Amaechi, a former NBA player, came out as gay in 2007, but he had already retired.

Past  US President Bill Clinton, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash are among those who sent messages of support to Collins today.

When White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked whether President Obama had discussed Collins, Carney said he hadn’t spoken with the President, but  told reporters: “Here at the White House we view that as another example of the progress that has been made and the evolution that has been taking place in this country, and commend him for his courage and support him in this effort, and hope that his fans and his team support him going forward.”

Collins, who has most recently played for the Washington Wizards and the Boston Celtics, said: “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport.”

Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement released by 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.”

Professionally a free agent after 11 seasons in the NBA with six different teams, Collins said he had tried to suppress his feelings through relationships with women. “I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her.”

Collins said he was inspired by Joe Kennedy, his Stanford room mate and now a Massachusetts congressman. ” He told me he had just marched in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade. I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn’t even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator. If I’d been questioned, I would have concocted half truths. What a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride. I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, “Me, too.”

Check out his first interview since coming out: