A National Basketball Association (NBA) player has become the first active player in a major professional U.S. team sport to reveal he is homosexual. In the cover story for this week's Sports Illustrated magazine, the acknowledgement by Washington Wizards center Jason Collins that he is gay has made headlines across the country and sparked wide reaction.
Jason Collins has spent 12 years in the NBA. But his playing career has never drawn as much public attention as his recent revelation. In an interview with ABC News, Collins said his decision to go public with his sexual orientation was difficult.
"You know, you go through anger, denial and that is all you know, but when you finally get to that point of acceptance, there's nothing more beautiful. And just allowing yourself to, you know, really be happy and be comfortable in your own skin," said Collins.
Collins said he first thought about revealing his sexuality last year, after years of what he calls "living a lie." But he said the recent Boston Marathon bombing finally convinced him to come out.
"It's kind of mind boggling that I never set out to be the first," he said. "You're sort of waiting around for someone else to raise their hand, and you know I'm ready to raise my hand, but you still look around like 'come on guys.'"
Several male athletes in major U.S. pro sports have revealed they were gay after they retired, but Collins is the first to do so while planning to continue playing. Sports writer Christine Brennan says he should be a role model for other professional athletes.
"Jackie Robinson, what he was to integration, and what [tennis legend] Billy Jean King has been to women's rights, and now Jason Collins for gay rights, I think this is not just big sports news this is big news in our country," said Brennan.
Since his story appeared in Sports Illustrated, Collins has received an outpouring of support from across the nation, including from President Obama.
"I think a lot of young people out there who are gay or lesbian who are struggling with these issues to see a role model like that who is unafraid I think its a great thing," said Obama.
Reaction to Collins' announcement from NBA league officials and fellow players was also positive.
"He's always been a great guy. He's always been a great teammate," said NBA player Mike Conley.
"I think it's fantastic that he's taking such a positive and influential role as a spokesperson in many respects," said player Steve Nash.
"If he plays another year, that is going to be a defining moment in the NBA or in professional sports, because you are going to have an openly gay man in a male dominated locker room," said former NBA player Cedric Maxwell.
Collins, a 34-year-old, 2.13-meter-tall center, finished this season with the Washington Wizards and has played for five other NBA teams. He wants to continue playing and says he is not worried about what happens when he hopefully steps back on the court.
"From my teammates I'm expecting support, because that's what I would do for my teammates," she said.
Collins is now a free agent, and he is looking for a new contract to play in the NBA next season.