Jason Collins

President Obama is one of many who’ve congratulated National Basketball Association (NBA) star Jason Collins for becoming the first active athlete in a top American professional team sport to come out as gay.

“I’m a 34-year-old NBA centre. I’m black. And I’m gay,” wrote Collins in an article published online by Sports Illustrated on Monday.

“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,” he said.

“I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”

The news became an instant traditional and social media sensation in the US and around the world.

The Huffington Post reported that President Obama called Collins to “express his support” and tell him that “he was impressed by his courage.”

Michelle Obama also tweeted her support, saying: “So proud of you, Jason Collins! This is a huge step forward for our country. We’ve got your back!”

Writing for Sports Illustrated, Martina Navratilova – the tennis legend who herself broke new ground by coming out as lesbian in 1981 – said that “Now that Jason Collins has come out, he is the proverbial ‘game-changer.’ One of the last bastions of homophobia has been challenged. How many LGBT kids, once closeted, are now more likely to pursue a team sport and won’t be scared away by a straight culture?

“Collins has led the way to freedom. Yes, freedom — because that closet is completely and utterly suffocating. It’s only when you come out that you can breathe properly. It’s only when you come out that you can be exactly who you are. Collins’ action will save lives. This is no exaggeration: Fully one third of suicides among teenagers occur because of their sexuality,” she wrote.

Many others in the sports world have expressed support for Collins, including NBA Commissioner David Stern, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, Collins’ teammate Garrett Temple and American tennis star Andy Roddick.

Collins’ announcement was welcomed by LGBTI groups across the US. “With his brave and honest announcement today, Jason Collins has forever changed the face of sports,” commented Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin.

“No longer will prejudice and fear force gay athletes to remain silent about a fundamental part of their lives. By coming out and living openly while still an active NBA player, Collins has courageously shown the world that one’s sexual orientation is no longer an impediment to achieving one’s goals, even at the highest levels of professional sports,” he said.

Collins later tweeted: “All the support I have received today is truly inspirational. I knew that I was choosing the road less travelled but I’m not walking it alone”.

Collins finished this season with the Washington Wizards, and has also played for the Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Jersey Nets, Atlanta Hawks, and Memphis Grizzlies.

Read Collins’ Sports Illustrated coming out article here.

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