NBA center Jason Collins has come out as the first openly gay athlete playing major league sports in North America, sharing the news in a carefully-worded personal essay for Sports Illustrated.
The 31-year-old veteran of over 700 games says that he did not want to be a trailblazer, but is ready to take the mantle of responsibility because he is tired of pretending to be someone he is not.
“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,” he wrote. The 7″ tall athlete has played in the NBA for 12 years, and says he hid his identity first out of fear and then out of loyalty to his teams.
“When I signed a free-agent contract with Boston last July, I decided to commit myself to the Celtics and not let my personal life become a distraction. When I was traded to the Wizards, the political significance of coming out sunk in.” He added that part of what prompted his decision was a desire to walk in Boston’s gay pride parade with his friend, a straight Massachusetts congressman.
A handful of professional athletes have come out after retirement, including John Amaechi (basketball), Billy Bean (baseball) and David Kopay (football). In Europe, rugby player Gareth Thomas came out in 2009, while he was still playing for Wales, and said that lying about his sexuality drove him to attempt suicide.
NBA Commissioner David Stern was quick to lend his support to Collins.
“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,” Stern said in a statement.
Former U.S President Bill Clinton also released a statement of support. His daughter Chelsea attended Stanford University with Collins.
“Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community,” Clinton said. “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.”