Longtime NBA big man Jason Collins is gay, and he doesn’t care if you know it.
Collins made that clear Monday, when the 12-year league veteran, who played for the Celtics and Wizards this season, opened up about his sexuality in a lengthy personal essay published in Sports Illustrated.
With his announcement, Collins became the first active, openly gay athlete in major professional team sports.
In the essay, which will be the cover story of the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated, Collins discussed his family history, including his relationship with his twin brother, former NBA big man Jarron Collins, his plans for the future — he’d like to keep playing — and his decision to come out.
“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport,” he wrote. “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.”
The announcement comes in the wake of some controversial comments from NBA coaching legend Phil Jackson, who told the Huffington Post earlier this month that he’d never “run into” the issue of a gay player in his career.
"That's a ridiculous question,” Jackson told the website. “None of us have probably ever seen it in all our careers. There's no inclusiveness to be had. I've never run into it in all my career."
In a 2011 interview after Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts came out as being gay, Hall of Fame player Charles Barkley painted a very different picture of the NBA landscape, telling the Washington Post, "Every player has played with gay guys. Any professional athlete who gets on TV or radio and says he never played with a gay guy is a stone-freakin' idiot."
Earlier this month, former Baylor center Brittney Griner came out to Sports Illustrated just days after being taken first overall by the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA.
In 2007, former Magic, Jazz and Cavs big man John Amaeichi became the first retired professional basketball player to come out, doing so in advance of the release of his memoir, "Man In The Middle."
Before Amaechi, several other retired ex-athletes revealed their sexuality, including former NFL running back David Kopay and journeyman defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo, who came out to HBO's Real Sports in 2002. Former Major League Baseball players Glenn Burke and Billy Bean also spoke freely about their sexuality after their playing days were over.
In recent months, there have been a number of straight, active professional athletes who have spoken out in support of gay rights, including Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and free-agent linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in February.
In a statement released Monday regarding Collins’ announcement, NBA commissioner David Stern showed support for the decision, saying, “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.”
Twitter reaction was swift and largely supportive. Doc Rivers, who coached Collins this season when he was with the Celtics, told SI he hoped the announcement was a turning point for the NBA.
NFL free agent Brendon Ayanbadejo, who authored a piece on gay rights in sports last week for FOXSports.com, applauded Collins:
Jason Collins showed a lot of courage today and I respect him for taking a stand and choosing to live in his truth. #nbafamily— Way of WADE (@DwyaneWade) April 29, 2013
From former U.S. President Bill Clinton:
I'm proud to call Jason Collins a friend. wjcf.co/154piCi— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) April 29, 2013
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, also openly gay, welcomed Collins to the cause:
Hey Jason Collins-you are now an activist!!! And trust me, you will sleep a lot better now- freedom is a sweet feeling indeed!— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) April 29, 2013
Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, a noted gay rights activist:
The men's basketball team at Stanford, where Jason and his brother Jarron played from 1997-2001:
United in our support for Jason Collins. Not only one of the best teammates and leaders, but most importantly, an even better person.— Stanford Men's Hoops (@stanfordbball) April 29, 2013
Not everyone responded so positively. Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace sent out a pair of controversial tweets on the matter, then later deleted them and apologized.