NBA center Jason Collins becomes first openly gay pro athlete

Posted By CAROLINE LEE,  |  April 29, 2013 at 11:49 AM
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Jason Collins, a center who last played for the Washington Wizards, has come out as a gay man, he said in a column he wrote for Sports Illustrated. He's the first active openly gay athlete in one of the big-four American team sports.

Collins is a 34-year-old respected veteran who has played for six teams over 12 seasons. Before this, he is probably best known for his ability to guard Dwight Howard. In the piece, Collins wrote that he has had a long struggle with his sexuality, and was even engaged to a woman for some time.

"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. 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," Collins wrote.

Collins says he started thinking about coming out during the 2011 NBA player lockout. He lacked the distraction that basketball provided, so he was forced to think about who he was and how he wanted to portray himself. He also cited team loyalty as part of why he didn't come out sooner -- but now, as a free agent, Collins felt comfortable to come out.

"The strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable in March, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Less than three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future."

His twin brother Jarron, with whom Collins played basketball at Stanford University, has come out to support him, as have multiple NBA players and celebrities on Twitter

In his SI article, Collins said his final motivation for coming out was being unable to participate in a gay pride parade in Boston in 2012: "I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, 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.'"

Former NBA player John Amaechi, who came out as gay after he retired, tweeted his congratulations:

He uses his Three Degrees of Jason Collins rule to describe his reach in the league -- he has played on enough teams where "If you're in the league, and [Collins] hasn't been your teammate, I surely have been one of your teammates' teammates." In his professional career, Collins has played for the New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.

"Some people insist they've never met a gay person. But Three Degrees of Jason Collins dictates that no NBA player can claim that anymore. Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who's gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who's out."

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