In landmark for US sports, NBA player comes out as gay

NBA center Jason Collins became the first active player in a major professional American team sport to reveal that he is gay, doing so to Sports Illustrated in a major cover story released on Monday.

Collins, who is now a free agent, has played in the NBA for 12 seasons with six teams, spending this past campaign with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards. He helped the New Jersey Nets reach the 2002 and 2003 NBA Finals.

"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black and I'm gay," began the story that Collins penned for the magazine with writer Franz Lidz that appears on the magazine's website.

"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."

Jason Collins
Jason Collins, who is now a free agent, has played in the NBA for 12 seasons with six teams. Pic/AFP

The landmark revelation will now focus attention on Collins and any club that decides to sign him as well as the attitudes of his new teammates.

Among the messages of support Collins received for his admission were those from former US president Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea was a college friend of Collins at Stanford, and NBA commissioner David Stern.

"Jason's announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender) 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."

Stern praised Collins for the courage and leadership of his admission.

"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.

Collins, a 7-footer, has averaged 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds over 713 NBA games for New Jersey, Memphis, Minnesota, Atlanta, Boston and Washington, mainly in reserve roles over the past six seasons. He averaged 1.1 points and 1.6 rebounds last season in a combined 38 games for Washington and Boston.

In the essay, posted on the magazine's website, Collins says he wants to keep playing in the NBA while being honest about his feelings.

"I still love the game and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that," Collins said. "At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful."

Collins said years of keeping his sexuality secret from teammates took a toll.

"It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret," Collins said. "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.

"Each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly."

Collins, who was engaged to a woman at one stage, said he knew he had to go public when college roommate Joe Kennedy, a Massachusetts congressman, said he marched in Boston's Gay Pride Parade last year.

"I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn't even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator," Collins said. "I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore."

They plan to march together at this year's parade in June, Collins said.

"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?" Collins wrote.

"Imagine you're in the oven baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know -- I baked for 33 years."

Collins said the strain of hiding his sexuality became almost unbearable in March when the US Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage.

"Less than three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future," Collins said. "Here was my chance to be heard and I couldn't say a thing. I didn't want to answer questions and draw attention to myself. Not while I was still playing."

Jarron Collins, Jason's twin brother who spent 10 seasons in the NBA before retiring in 2011, told the magazine he supports his elder sibling.

"He wants a relationship, he wants a family, he wants to settle down. He wants to move forward with his personal life while maintaining his life as a professional basketball player," the younger Collins twin said.

"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." 

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