Jason Collins offers courage for closeted athletes

Nothing has done more to combat anti-gay prejudice than the visibility of gay people, both in communities across America and in the national spotlight. Yet while a number of female pro athletes, and retired male ones, have come out publicly, no active major league men’s player had done the same. That changed Monday, when former Celtics player Jason Collins disclosed his orientation in Sports Illustrated. Collins recounts the sense of envy he felt when his college roommate, Joseph Kennedy III, marched in Boston’s gay pride parade as a congressional candidate last June; Collins felt that “as a closeted gay man I couldn’t even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator.”

Now with the Washington Wizards, Collins is Stanford-educated and well connected; he’s friendly not just with Kennedy but with Chelsea and Bill Clinton. He has a supportive twin brother who’s also played in the NBA. The words of congratulation from other pro athletes Monday were heartening. Still, Collins, a 12-year-veteran, was taking a risk; his agent hinted that it might have been wiser for him to wait until after signing a contract.

Some fans, and some players, are bound to be hostile. Yet the casual homophobia that some pro athletes have expressed at times is harder to sustain when an active player comes out. No one who’s played with Collins can say they don’t know any gay people. His effort to defeat prejudice with professionalism should give other closeted athletes more courage.