Veteran NBA center Jason Collins, who played for the Atlanta Hawks as late as last year, came out as gay on Monday, becoming the first openly gay male athlete in U.S. professional sports.
Collins did it with this simple declaration in a personal essay for Sports Illustrated:
I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.
It’s been a question of when, not if, a pro jock would come out, though much of the chatter has focused on the NFL and a steady stream of LGBT allies helping to pave the way in recent months.
Collins, now a free agent who has appeared in two NBA Finals, says he didn’t set out to be a trailblazer, but now that he is, he’s “happy to start the conversation.”
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.
Why am I coming out now? Well, I started thinking about this in 2011 during the NBA player lockout. I’m a creature of routine. When the regular season ends I immediately dedicate myself to getting game ready for the opener of the next campaign in the fall. But the lockout wreaked havoc on my habits and forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want. With the season delayed, I trained and worked out. But I lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided.
The first relative I came out to was my aunt Teri, a superior court judge in San Francisco. Her reaction surprised me. “I’ve known you were gay for years,” she said. From that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin. In her presence I ignored my censor button for the first time. She gave me support. The relief I felt was a sweet release. Imagine you’re in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know — I baked for 33 years.
Collins played for the Hawks from 2009 to 2012, leaving as a free agent after the 2012 season. He finished the 2013 season with the Washington Wizards, where he was traded earlier this year from the Boston Celtics. In D.C., Collins enjoyed his spa days.
It didn’t take gay Atlanta sports fans long to react: