Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran who played in 34 games for the Celtics this season, revealed he is gay in an essay published by Sports Illustrated on Monday.
He is the first known male athlete in one of the big four American professional sports (basketball, baseball, football, and hockey) to declare he is gay.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” wrote Collins. “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.”
Collins, who was a roommate of Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy at Stanford, said the congressman helped inspire him to come out by marching in the Boston Gay Pride Parade last year.
“I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy,” Collins wrote. “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.
“If I’d been questioned, I would have concocted half truths. What a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride. I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, ‘Me, too.’ ”
Collins added that the Boston Marathon bombings affected his decision to come out. He wrote of the impact, “Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?”
Collins said he informed Kennedy a few weeks ago that he was gay, and that Kennedy was supportive. He added that he plans to march in this year’s Gay Pride Parade with the congressman.
Kennedy issued a statement supporting Collins.
“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.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers was among those to salute Collins.
“He is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite ‘team’ players I have ever coached,” Rivers said.
“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.’”
NBA commissioner David Stern said the league was proud Collins has “assumed the leadership mantle” by breaking this barrier.
Former President Bill Clinton also issued a statement of support for Collins, whom he said he has known since Collins was a classmate of his daughter, Chelsea, at Stanford.
Clinton called Collins’s announcement “an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community” and called on others to show him “the respect he has earned.”
Said Clinton of the impact, “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.”
Collins has played for six NBA teams in his career. The Celtics traded him to the Washington Wizards earlier this season in exchange for guard Jordan Crawford. Collins averaged 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds for the Celtics, starting in seven games.