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NBA center Jason Collins comes out: 'I'm black. And I'm gay'

NBA center Jason Collins reveals in Sports Illustrated that he is gay, saying very simply "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay." MSNBC's Thomas Roberts discusses.

With two words — "I'm gay" — NBA player Jason Collins made sports history Monday, drawing widespread praise from fans, ex-teammates and two presidents.

"Jason's announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community," said a statement from Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea has been friends with Collins since their days at Stanford University.

"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."

A White House official also said that President Barack Obama even called Collins to "express his support" and said he was impressed by his courage.

On her Facebook page, Chelsea Clinton said she was proud of her pal "for having the strength and courage to become the first openly gay athlete in the NBA."

It's not just the NBA. Collins, 34, is the first openly gay male in any of the four leading professional team sports in America. He came out in the pages of Sports Illustrated in a first-person essay.

"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay," he wrote.

The journeyman free agent, who most recently played for the Washington Wizards, said that while he started thinking about revealing his sexual orientation in 2011, it was the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15 that made him decide now was the right time.

"Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?" he wrote.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Jason Collins, seen here during a Nov. 15 game between the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets, has revealed he's gay.

Collins' declaration reverberated across social media and the sporting world, though it remains to be seen what long-term effect it will have on the world of professional athletics.

Hudson Taylor, head of the anti-homophobia non-profit Athlete Ally, said that while the immediate reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, other closeted players and lesbian and gay amateurs will be watching closely to see how Collins fares in the weeks and months ahead.

“He’s a free agent, so that’s certainly something to consider. How does it look if he doesn’t get picked up?” Taylor said. “We need to make sure that should he not continue as a player, that it’s for athletic reasons and not for any others.”

Support from NBA players and officials poured in quickly.

"The time has come. Maximum respect," Steve Nash of the Los Angeles Lakers tweeted.

NBA Commissioner David Stern said Collins has been an exemplary player during his 12 seasons in the NBA and the league is "proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue."

Collins' most recent team called him a leader on and off the court.

"We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly," Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said.


In recent years, and especially over the past few months, professional athletes and league officials have paved the way for an active athlete to come out.

Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts came out in a newspaper article two years ago. NFL linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo said in April he knew of several players who were gay. NFL punter Chris Kluwe signed on to a Supreme Court brief supporting gay marriage.

And Roger Goodell, the powerful commissioner of the NFL, said last week that harassment against a gay player would be unacceptable.

Taylor, of Athlete Ally, said the reaction to Collins' coming-out will be the deciding factor in whether others follow in his size 17 Nikes.

"What's most important is that we have allies speaking out because that’s what's going to lead to a second, third, fourth, fifth athlete taking that step," he said.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, said he expects more athletes to come out "now that this glass ceiling has been broken," especially given the positive response so far.

"The reaction has shown that the country is ready for this," he said.

In his essay, Collins chronicles his incremental path to living as an openly gay man — from conversations with family members, to wearing a jersey with the No. 98 to reference the 1998 hate murder of Mathew Shepherd, to his decision to break the news before someone else did.

"I'm glad I'm coming out in 2013 rather than 2003," he wrote. "The climate has shifted; public opinion has shifted. And yet we still have so much farther to go."

Tennis legend Billie Jean King, who came out as a lesbian in 1998, said Collins' statement was cause for celebration, but only a first step.

"I look forward to the day when the news of anyone coming out, is a non-issue and once we reach that point we will know we have arrived," she said.

Not everyone was cheering.

Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace tweeted -- and quickly deleted -- this comment: "All these beautiful women in the word and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH..."

After being slammed online, Wallace posted an apology of sorts.

 

WFAN radio host Mike Francesca cautioned his listeners not to call in with "dumb jokes" but also shrugged off the news as "a dramatic attempt to sell magazines."

"It means less than nothing to me that there is a gay player out there in the NBA," he said.

"Will it be a problem in the locker room?" he added. "With some players it will be."

Collins said he plans to march in Boston's Gay Pride Parade on June 8, alongside a straight friend, Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy, his college roommate.

"For as long as I've known Jason Collins he has been defined by three things: his passion for the sport he loves, his unwavering integrity, and the biggest heart you will ever find," said the congressman.

"Without question or hesitation, he gives everything he's got to those of us lucky enough to be in his life. I'm proud to stand with him today and proud to call him a friend."

NBC News' Erin McClam contributed to this report

 

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