Jason Collins has spent his entire career battling for space on the basketball court against some of the biggest, most powerful men in the sport. But nothing the 7-foot center did in 12 years in the NBA required the courage that it took to write three simple sentences that broke a loud silence that had permeated men’s sports locker rooms for decades:
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
Those were the opening words of Collins’ essay that will run in the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated. The magazine published the article online Monday, and within minutes, it had gone viral, and set off a social media ovation from admirers ranging from President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton to NBA stars Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant to tennis legends Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King.
Collins, who played for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards this season, is the first openly gay active male athlete in any of the major U.S. team sports — a world considered one of the last bastions of homophobia in American society, a world where just last month Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for, among other things, spewing gay slurs at his players.
Female athletes such as Navratilova and King came out long ago. Baylor basketball star Brittney Griner recently revealed she is a lesbian. And a handful of retired male athletes have come out, including the NFL’s Dave Kopay, Major League Baseball’s Billy Bean, and the NBA’s John Amaechi. But no man still playing in one of the four biggest U.S. sports had come out until Monday.
“I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different,’ ” Collins wrote. “If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand …
“I’ve been asked how other players will respond to my announcement ... The simple answer is, I have no idea … I hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”
The response was overwhelmingly positive.
The Heat’s Wade wrote: “Jason Collins showed a lot of courage today, and I respect him for taking a stand and choosing to live in his truth #NBAfamily.”
Kobe Bryant tweeted: “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support.”
Bryant’s Lakers teammate Steve Nash’s message was short, and to the point: “The time has come. Maximum respect.”
Retired tennis star Andy Roddick was even more succinct: “Props! @Jasoncollins34.”
“Congratulations to Jason – society couldn’t hope for a more eloquent & positive role model,” Amaechi wrote.
First lady Michelle Obama chimed in on Twitter on Monday afternoon.
“So proud of you, Jason Collins! This is a huge step forward for our country. We’ve got your back!” the tweet read. It was signed “mo” — signifying that the first lady personally wrote the message.
By the day’s end, Collins also received a phone call from Obama, who reportedly said he was impressed by Collins’ courage.
Clinton, whose daughter, Chelsea, was a classmate of Collins at Stanford, issued this statement: “Jason’s announcement [Monday] is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community. ... 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.”