NBA Center Jason Collins Becomes League's First Openly Gay Active Player

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2013

For the first time in the history, a male athlete has publicly announced that he is gay while still active in an American professional sport. That man is Jason Collins, who most recently played for the Washington Wizards.

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.

Sports Illustrated tweeted the cover of this week's magazine, with Collins featured:

Sports Illustrated @SInow

This Week's Cover: The Gay Athlete STORY: http://t.co/VWxONWHeFV COVER: http://t.co/zG3fQvm9vo

Almost immediately following the unveiling of this story on the Dan Patrick Show, Baron Davis—who last played for the New York Knicks during the 2011-12 season—tweeted his support of Collins:

Baron Davis @BaronDavis

I am so proud of my bro @jasoncollins34 for being real. #FTheHaters http://t.co/IugkyZLS9y

Kobe Bryant quickly chimed in as well:

Kobe Bryant @kobebryant

Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don't suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU

The Wizards' President Ernie Grunfeld released the following statement via the team's website:

We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career. Those qualities will continue to serve him both as a player and as a positive role model for others of all sexual orientation.

Jason's twin brother, Jarron, wrote the following in an article for Sports Illustrated:

I already anticipate the questions: "Are you the gay twin or the straight one?" This is uncharted territory, and no one can predict how it will play out. It's a big deal—but it's also not a big deal. When the media crush is over, Jason will have the strength to deal with whatever challenges come from being openly gay.

As for us, we're still going to give each other grief. (He's still going to be a terrible golfer; he's still the guy who could help more with changing my kids' diapers.) We'll still be competitive in our way. As kids we were always pushing each other, whether it was for good grades or for possession of the remote control. As NBA players we both wanted to be stronger, so each summer we would have a "liftoff" to see who could put up more weight.

Today, Jason has taken a huge weight off his shoulders. And I've never been more proud of him.

The Clinton family chimed in as well, starting with Chelsea Clinton, who was Collins' classmate at Stanford:

Chelsea Clinton @ChelseaClinton

Very proud of my friend Jason Collins for having the strength & courage to be the first openly gay player in the NBA. http://t.co/f1VQFSsSkJ

Former President Bill Clinton added:

I have known Jason Collins since he was Chelsea’s classmate and friend at Stanford. Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community. It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities. For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive. I hope that everyone, particularly Jason’s colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned.

Finally, NBA commissioner David Stern released the following statement (via Mark Medina on Sulia):

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.

There has recently been a push for more acceptance of homosexuality in professional sports, particularly on the men's side. The NFL's Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo have openly promoted gay rights, but there is still a lingering perception that male athletes are slower to accept the idea of gay players than their female counterparts. 

The WNBA's Brittney Griner recently came out in a nondescript manner while conducting an interview with fellow players Skylar Diggins and Elena Delle Donne.  

It remains to be seen if Collins' future teammates will treat him differently, or if the 34-year-old center, who appeared in just 38 games last season with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, will even be signed out of free agency. 

One common belief is that we won't see a true push for acceptance of male homosexual athletes until a major star comes out. While that may be the case, the bravery of Collins and the importance of this moment should not be understated.

Sports have always been an outlet where societal injustices could be remedied, dating back to Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color line. Hopefully, with Collins' announcement, more male athletes will feel comfortable enough to come out with the support of fans, players and coaches alike. 

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