For months, the sports world has discussed the potential of the first gay male professional athlete. Advocacy and support for an active gay athlete in American professional sports has grown immensely in the last several years and in 2013 the questions were becoming a matter of when and who and not if.
The time is now and the person is NBA center Jason Collins, who played with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards this past season. Collins penned a first person story in this week's Sports Illustrated as this week's cover story. Here's Collins in his own words:
"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.
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.
My journey of self-discovery and self-acknowledgement began in my hometown of Los Angeles and has taken me through two state high school championships, the NCAA Final Four and the Elite Eight, and nine playoffs in 12 NBA seasons.
I've played for six pro teams and have appeared in two NBA Finals. Ever heard of a parlor game called Three Degrees of Jason Collins? If you're in the league, and I haven't been your teammate, I surely have been one of your teammates' teammates. Or one of your teammates' teammates' teammates.
Now I'm a free agent, literally and figuratively. I've reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful."
Collins has been a serviceable big man for over a decade and has played for 6 NBA teams in his career and averaged 10 minutes a game between Boston and Washington this season. Collins is a free agent looking for a team heading into next season, but plans on playing somewhere. Although Collins' first-person narrative is a powerful read and journey into his decision, a remarkable aspect of the story is that Jason Collins didn't come out to his twin brother Jarron until just last year.
"I didn't come out to my brother until last summer. His reaction to my breakfast revelation was radically different from Aunt Teri's. He was downright astounded. He never suspected. So much for twin telepathy. But by dinner that night, he was full of brotherly love. For the first time in our lives, he wanted to step in and protect me."
This is a monumental moment in American sports, even if Collins doesn't latch on to another NBA team. Other prominent male athletes have come out, but Collins has done so before his playing days have officially come to an end. Now that Jason Collins has taken the step, he has opened the door for other current athletes to follow suit, and that could be more valuable than anything he accomplished on the court.
And, at least initially, support for Collins has been overwhelming:
Congratulations to Jason – society couldn't hope for a more eloquent & positive role model: buff.ly/10OvOMd
— John Amaechi OBE (@JohnAmaechi) April 29, 2013
— Baron Davis (@Baron_Davis) April 29, 2013
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 29, 2013
David Stern has also issued a statement pledging the NBA's support for Collins:
As Adam Silver and I said to Jason, we have known the Collins family since Jason and Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family. 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.