Center Jason Collins on Monday became the first active player in a major US professional team sport to reveal he is gay — a groundbreaking disclosure greeted with broad support.
The 34-year-old free agent, who has played for six NBA teams over the past 12 seasons, went public with his sexuality in an essay published on Sports Illustrated magazine’s Web site.
“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,” Collins said.
Among those backing Collins was US President Barack Obama.
“The president called Jason Collins to express his support and said he was impressed by his courage,” a White House aide said.
Collins took to Twitter on Monday night with a message of gratitude.
“All the support I have received today is truly inspirational,” he said. “I knew that I was choosing the road less traveled, but I’m not walking it alone.”
The revelation has drawn comparisons to the way the spotlight shone on Jackie Robinson in 1947 when he became Major League Baseball’s first black player.
“Jason Collins has forever changed the face of sports,” Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said. “No longer will prejudice and fear force gay athletes to remain silent about a fundamental part of their lives. Collins has courageously shown the world that one’s sexual orientation is no longer an impediment to achieving one’s goals, even at the highest levels of professional sports ... Jason Collins is a hero for our own times.”
Still, Collins can expect homophobic taunts from NBA game hecklers.
“I don’t mind if they heckle me. I’ve been booed before,” Collins said. “Everyone is terrified of the unknown, but most of us don’t want to return to a time when minorities were openly discriminated against.”
Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts, the highest-ranked NBA executive who is openly gay, said he was confident Collins would not have trouble getting a new contract.
“He absolutely will receive more opportunities. More doors will open than close,” Welts tweeted. “I’m very proud of him. It was very courageous. This was an important step.”
“It still is a big deal today,” he added. “There will be a day when it isn’t.”
Collins said he had no clue how his next NBA teammates might react knowing they share the locker room with a gay man, but said he would be willing to talk to any of them about the issue.
While the vast majority of views expressed in the sports world backed Collins, there were dissenters — notably Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace.
“All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys,” Wallace tweeted. “I’m not bashing anybody, don’t have anything against anyone, I just don’t understand it.”
Wallace deleted the remarks and later apologized, while the Dolphins distanced themselves from the comments in a statement.
“We believe in a culture of inclusiveness and respect,” it said.