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NBA veteran center Collins reveals that he's gay in Sports Illustrated

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Jason Collins of the Washington Wizards rebounds against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on April 17, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. In a Sports Illustrated story NBA center Jason Collins came out, becoming the first openly gay active player in major sports Monday, April 29, 2013.

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By The Associated Press
Monday, April 29, 2013, 12:06 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — With the simplest of sentences, NBA veteran Jason Collins set aside years of worry and silence to become the first active player in one of four major U.S. professional sports leagues to come out as gay.

In a first-person article posted Monday on Sports Illustrated's website, Collins begins: “I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.”

Collins has played for six teams in 12 seasons, most recently as a reserve with the Washington Wizards after a midseason trade from the Boston Celtics. He is a free agent and wants to keep playing in the NBA.

“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,' ” Collins writes. “If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand.”

Saying he had “endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie,” Collins immediately drew support for his announcement from the White House, former President Bill Clinton, the NBA, current and former teammates, and athletes in other sports.

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant tweeted that he was proud of Collins, writing: “Don't suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others,” followed by the words “courage” and “support.”

“We've got to get rid of the shame. That's the main thing. And Jason's going to help that. He's going to help give people courage to come out,” said Billie Jean King, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame who confirmed she was gay after being outed in the early 1980s.

“I guarantee you he's going to feel much lighter, much freer. The truth does set you free, there's no question. It doesn't mean it's easy. But it sets you free,” King said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press.

Social media buzzed with applause and congratulations for Collins on Monday morning, though it didn't take long for former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace to put his cleat in his mouth. Wallace, who signed with the Miami Dolphins in March, wrote on his Twitter account, “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH (shake my head) …”

Wallace took down the post after it caused an immediate backlash and apologized – sort of.

“Never said anything was right or wrong I just said I don't understand!!” Wallace wrote on Twitter. “Deeply sorry for anyone that I offended.”

The Dolphins immediately issued a statement:

“Mike Wallace has apologized for his comments, and we have addressed the matter with him. Mike's comments do not reflect the views of the Miami Dolphins. We believe in a culture of inclusiveness and respect, and any statements to the contrary are in no way acceptable to our organization. We will address the entire team about our policy of inclusion and make sure they all understand the importance of respecting individual choices.”

The Wizards, whose season ended April 17, issued a statement from President Ernie Grunfeld: “We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career. Those qualities will continue to serve him both as a player and as a positive role model for others of all sexual orientation.”

Collins says he quietly made a statement for gay rights even while keeping his sexual orientation a secret. He wore No. 98 with the Celtics and Wizards - 1998 was year that Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming, was killed, and the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization, was founded.

After being a first-round draft pick in 2001, Collins has averaged 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds for six NBA teams.

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