By Dara Sharif
NBA center Jason Collins has made sports history by becoming the first openly gay athlete playing a major U.S. team sport.
"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm Black. And I'm gay."
With those words, Collins made his historic announcement in a personal essay that was posted Monday on Sports Illustrated's website. The article is the cover story for the magazine's May 6 issue.
The news comes on the heels of the NFL's move last week to do more to protect gay football players, amid widespread speculation that a pro football player would be the first major-team-sport athlete to come out.
Instead, history is being made from the basketball court. With his pronouncement, Collins broke the sexual-orientation barrier in sports, a feat reminiscent of Jackie Robinson's breaking baseball's racial barrier six decades ago.
Collins, who, like Robinson, is Black, says he hopes sexual orientation won't define him any more than race should. He says he realized life's uncertainty in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing and decided it was time to live openly. He hopes his decision to come out will do for sports what the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell did for the military.
"Critics of the repeal were sure that out military members would devastate morale and destroy civilization," Collins wrote. "But … greater openness and honesty resulting from repeal seem to have promoted increased understanding, respect and acceptance. The same goes for sports."
Collins, a 7-foot, 255-pound free agent who played for the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards last season, says he can't predict how his NBA colleagues or the fans will react. He hopes his 12 years of aggressive, competitive play will garner him respect and support he deserves.
"Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it's a good place to start," he wrote. "Gay players are no different from straight ones."
NBA Commissioner David Stern issued a statement indicating the league's support.
"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," Stern said.
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