Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran from Southern California, became the first openly gay, active male player in a major American team sport Monday when he came out in a first-person Sports Illustrated article.
There have been reports recently that some NFL players planned to reveal they are gay, but Collins, who played last season with Boston and Washington but now is a free agent, took the lead.
His story, written with Sports Illustrated’s Franz Lidz, started simply: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
While the existence of gay athletes in American male professional team sports long has been a given, none had stepped forward during his playing career before Collins, who played in high school at Harvard-Westlake and collegiately at Stanford.
Collins said he had not told any NBA players he is gay and only started to come out to his family in the past year or so. He said he did not tell his twin brother, former NBA player Jarron Collins, until last summer.
The only indication Collins said he gave was wearing No. 98 last season because gay student Matthew Shepard was tortured and murdered in 1998 in Wyoming.
Collins wrote that he wasn’t sure how he would be received in the NBA, but he did not feel he should remain silent any longer.
“I’m a veteran, and I’ve earned the right to be heard,” he wrote. “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.”
NBA commissioner David Stern released a statement after Collins’ news broke:
“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.”
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who was fined $100,000 for yelling an anti-gay slur at a referee in a 2011 game, issued support for Collins on Twitter: “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU”
Lakers guard Steve Nash added on Twitter: “The time has come. Maximum respect.”
Former President Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea attended Stanford with Collins, tweeted: “I’m proud to call Jason Collins a friend.”
By TODD HARMONSON
/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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