NEW YORK (AP) — NBA veteran Jason Collins became the first active male player in the four major American professional sports to come out as gay.
The 34-year-old center, who has played for six teams in 12 seasons, wrote a first-person account that was posted on Sports Illustrated’s website Monday. Collins finished the season with the Washington Wizards and is now a free agent. He says he wants to keep playing.
“If I had my way, someone else would have already done this,” he writes. “Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
Collins played in a Final Four for Stanford and reached two NBA Finals. His twin brother, Jarron, was also a longtime NBA center. Collins says he told his brother he was gay last summer.
“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,” NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement.
Among those offering support on social media was former first daughter Chelsea Clinton, a friend from Stanford. She tweeted: “Very proud of my friend Jason Collins for having the strength & courage to be the first openly gay player in the NBA.”
Collins was also college roommates with another member of an American political dynasty: Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass. In his account, Collins wrote that he realized he needed to go public when the congressman walked in Boston’s gay pride parade last year — and Collins couldn’t join him.
Kennedy tweeted Monday that “I’ve always been proud to call (Collins) a friend, and I’m even prouder to stand with him today.”
Mostly a backup in his career, Collins has averaged 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds for the Nets, Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Hawks, Celtics and Wizards. He was traded from Boston to Washington in February. Collins was the 18th pick in the first round of the 2001 NBA draft.
Several male athletes have previously come out after they retired, including the NBA’s John Amaechi, the NFL’s Esera Tuaolo and Major League Baseball’s Billy Bean. But Collins is the first to do so while planning to keep playing.
Advocacy organization GLAAD released a statement from Aaron McQuade, who head of its sports program.
“‘Courage’ and ‘inspiration’ are words that get thrown around a lot in sports, but Jason Collins has given both ideas a brand new context,” he said. “We hope that his future team will welcome him, and that fans of the NBA and sports in general will applaud him. We know that the NBA will proudly support him, and that countless young LGBT Athletes now have a new hero.”
Excerpts from NBA veteran Jason Collins’ first-person account published in Sports Illustrated, as he came out as the first gay male player in the four major American professional sports:
“When I was younger I dated 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. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue.”
“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 then three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard, and I couldn’t say a thing.”
“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.”
“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?”
“Now I’m a free agent, literally and figuratively. I’ve reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful.”
“I watch as my brother and friends from college start their own families. Changing diapers is a lot of work, but children bring so much joy. I’m crazy about my nieces and nephew, and I can’t wait to start a family of my own.”
“I’ve never sought the spotlight. Though I’m coming out to the world, I intend to guard my privacy. I’m making this blanket statement in part to keep rumors and misunderstandings at bay. I hope fans will respect me for raising my hand. And I hope teammates will remember that I’ve never been an in-your-face kind of guy. All you need to know is that I’m single. I see no need to delve into specifics.”
“I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay? But I’ve always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn’t make you soft? Who knows? That’s something for a psychologist to unravel.”
“I’ve been asked how other players will respond to my announcement. The simple answer is, I have no idea. I’m a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room. Believe me, I’ve taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn’t an issue before, and it won’t be one now. … As far as the reaction of fans, I don’t mind if they heckle me. I’ve been booed before.”
“Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start. It all comes down to education. I’ll sit down with any player who’s uneasy about my coming out. Being gay is not a choice. This is the tough road and at times the lonely road.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.