BOSTON (CBS) — For months, rumors persisted of an openly gay professional athlete coming out as gay, and on Monday, that player turned out to be NBA center Jason Collins.
Collins, 34, was a member of the Washington Wizards this season, after he was traded there by the Boston Celtics in February.
“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,” Collins wrote in Sports Illustrated. “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.”
Collins’ contract expired at the end of the season, so he’s currently a free agent. He wrote that he wants to continue his NBA career, which has spanned 12 seasons and has seen him play for six different teams.
Collins wrote that he began to struggle to keep his secret during the NBA lockout last season, when he “lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided,” and that he’s come out to some family members in the time since. He said he was committed to the Celtics and didn’t want to create any distractions by coming out publicly, but he did wear No. 98 for the first time of his career to honor Matthew Shepard and the founding of the Trevor Project.
“The hardest part of this is the realization that my entire family will be affected,” Collins wrote in SI. “But my relatives have told me repeatedly that as long as I’m happy, they’re there for me.”
The bombings at the Boston Marathon were a factor in the timing of Collins’ announcement, he said.
“The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect,” wrote Collins, who tweeted after the bombings that he lived near where the explosions took place in Boston. “Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?”
One of Collins’ supporters is Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy, who was Collins’ roommate at Stanford. Kennedy released a statement shortly after Collins’ news went public.
“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,” Kennedy said. “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.”
Cedric Maxwell discusses Jason Collins:
Doc Rivers, Collins’ former coach in Boston, also released a statement supporting him.
“I am extremely happy and proud of Jason Collins,” Riversa said. “He’s a pro’s pro. He is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite ‘team’ players I have ever coached. If you have learned anything from Jackie Robinson, it is that teammates are always the first to accept. It will be society who has to learn tolerance. One of my favorite sayings is, I am who I am, are whom we are, can be what I want to be its not up to you, it’s just me being me.”
“I am extremely happy and proud of Jason Collins. He’s a pro’s pro. He is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite “team” players I have ever coached. If you have learned anything from Jackie Robinson, it is that teammates are always the first to accept. It will be society who has to learn tolerance. One of my favorite sayings is, I am who I am, are whom we are, can be what I want to be its not up to you, it’s just me being me.”
Collins said that he doesn’t mind if fans heckle him, and that he doesn’t fear the extra attention that will be on him going forward.
“After I was traded by the Celtics to Washington in February, I took a detour to the Dr. King memorial,” Collins wrote. “I was inspired and humbled. I celebrate being an African-American and the hardships of the past that still resonate today. But I don’t let my race define me any more than I want my sexual orientation to. I don’t want to be labeled, and I can’t let someone else’s label define me.”
98.5 The Sports Hub’s Gresh & Zo discussed the news of Jason Collins.