April 29, 2013

NBA center Jason Collins comes out as gay

The Associated Press

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Boston Celtics center Jason Collins battles Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) for a rebound during the first half of their NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Los Angeles. NBA veteran center Collins has become the first male professional athlete in the major four American sports leagues to come out as gay. Collins wrote a first-person account posted Monday, April 29, 2013 on Sports Illustrated's website. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

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Jason Collins

The Associated Press

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"I would say the NHL has been a force to kind of obviously embrace and encourage. ... What (Collins) did, I think it's definitely (good) for basketball, and the same for hockey, too. It's going to be encouraging for more guys to step up and just be open about themselves," Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward said.

Living in the nation's capital last month while the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about same-sex marriage had an effect on Collins, who says "the strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable" at that time.

"Less than three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard, and I couldn't say a thing," he writes. "I didn't want to answer questions and draw attention to myself."

After being a first-round draft pick in 2001, Collins has averaged 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds for the New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Celtics and Wizards.

In his SI piece, he jokes self-effacingly about his journeyman career and a parlor game known as "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," he writes.

Never a star, he acknowledges, "I take charges and I foul — that's been my forte. ... I set picks with my 7-foot, 255-pound body to get guys like Jason Kidd, John Wall and Paul Pierce open. I sacrifice myself for other players."

He continues: "I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay? But I've always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn't make you soft? Who knows? That's something for a psychologist to unravel."

As for what response other NBA players will have to his revelation, Collins writes: "The simple answer is, I have no idea."

"Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it's a good place to start. It all comes down to education. I'll sit down with any player who's uneasy about my coming out," he says in his account, adding: "Still, if I'm up against an intolerant player, I'll set a pretty hard pick on him. And then move on."

On Monday, there was an outpouring of positive sentiments.

In texts to the AP, Wizards guard Garrett Temple wrote, "I was surprised. I didn't know and I was right next to him in the locker room. It definitely took a lot of courage for him to come out. He was a great teammate," and rookie Bradley Beal said: "I didn't know about it! I don't think anyone did! I am proud of his decision to come out and express the way he feels and I'm supportive of that!!"

Former teammate Jerry Stackhouse, now with the Brooklyn Nets, wrote in a text: "I hope Jason is received well by our NBA family. Jason is a friend and a former teammate that I've enjoyed many laughs and conversations with and his sexual orientation won't change that with me. I've already reached out to him personally to show support and will encourage more guys to do the same."

NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement: "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."

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