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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While Collins is the first male athlete in a major North American professional league to come out while intending to keep playing, several have previously spoken after they retired about being gay, including the NBA's John Amaechi, the NFL's Esera Tuaolo and Major League Baseball's Billy Bean.

"I think he is immensely brave. I think it's a shame in this day and age he has to be immensely brave, but he is," Amaechi told the AP. "He's going to be a remarkable and eloquent spokesperson for what it is to be a decent, authentic human being — never mind just for gay people."

Rick Welts, president and chief operating officer of the NBA's Golden State Warriors, is openly gay.

"He probably knows what he signed up for. There'll be a whole bunch more television reporters and cameras than he's probably had in the past. ... There had been a long of speculation about when, who, how. I think that speculation has been put to rest now," Welts said, "and we'll always remember that Jason Collins was the first man to do this."

Collins says that if he remains in the NBA, he could face uncomfortable reactions from spectators.

"I don't mind if they heckle me. I've been booed before. There have been times when I've wanted to boo myself. But a lot of ill feelings can be cured by winning," he writes.

He adds: "I hope fans will respect me for raising my hand. And I hope teammates will remember that I've never been an in-your-face kind of guy. All you need to know is that I'm single. I see no need to delve into specifics."

In February, former U.S. soccer national team player Robbie Rogers said he was gay — and retired at the same time. Rogers is just 25, and others have urged him to resume his career.

"I feel a movement coming," he tweeted after word of Collins' news broke.

Female athletes have found more acceptance in coming out; Brittney Griner, a top college basketball player now headed to the WNBA, caused few ripples when she said this month she is a lesbian. Tennis great Martina Navratilova, who came out decades ago, tweeted Monday that Collins is "a brave man."

"1981 was the year for me — 2013 is the year for you," her post added.

Sports leagues in Britain and elsewhere in Europe have been trying to combat anti-gay bias. But the taboo remains particularly strong in soccer, where there are no openly gay players in Europe's top leagues. Homophobic chants are still heard at some games.

Soccer "is not going to change," said Amaechi, who is English and now lives in Manchester. "If it wanted to change, it would change. It has the resources to do so. It doesn't want to change."

Justin Fashanu is the only significant British soccer player to have come out publicly, doing so in 1990. The former Nottingham Forest and Norwich City striker was found hanged in a London garage in 1998 at age 37. According to an inquest, Fashanu left a note saying that, because he was gay, he feared he wouldn't get a fair trial in the United States on sexual assault charges. Maryland police were seeking him on charges that he sexually assaulted a 17-year-old boy.

Among other athletes outside the U.S. to come out was Gareth Thomas, a Welsh rugby star who attracted widespread media attention in 2009 when he announced he was gay. He continued playing until retirement in 2011.

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