Jason Collins, a backup NBA center, became a civil rights pioneer by becoming the first major sport professional athlete to come out as gay. PHOTO: Reuters
Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete in a major professional sport when the NBA center came out of the closet. The announcement was coordinated with a Sports Illustrated cover story in an issue set to come out on May 6th. Collins' history making editorial begins:
"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.
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."
There are already a handful of former athletes who have come out as gay, and current athletes who are vocal straight supporters, but Jason Collins is the first major sport athlete to come out in the middle of his career. NBA Commissioner David Stern released a statement supporting Collins' bravery:
"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."
"I won't lie. I had no idea. We talked, he answered my questions, I hugged him and digested what he had told me. At the end of the day, this is what matters: He's my brother, he's a great guy, and I want him to be happy. I'll love him and I"ll support him and, if necessary, I'll protect him."
It might not be long before we get a cascade of these announcements. Brendan Ayanbadejo, an outspoken LBGT advocate in the NFL, said that four NFL players might come out together this offseason. There are likely a fair number of closeted professional athletes waiting for someone else to take the coming out plunge. It makes sense that a fringy player like Collins in the back end of his career would be the first. The next big step will be for a player in his prime, and then a star player. Now, that Collins has taken the plunge, who knows how many will follow in his slipstream.