Jason Collins, an NBA center and a Stanford Cardinal from 1998 to 2001, came out as gay today in a Sports Illustrated article.
Collins, whose impassioned article made him the first active male athlete in a major professional U.S. sport to come out, was drafted in 2001 by the Houston Rockets and played that year for the New Jersey Nets, according to his ESPN profile.
"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 wrote in the article. "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."
His announcement was greeted as a major milestone for the gay-rights movement by NBA officials, professional athletes and national figures, with Bill Clinton one of many to express their support for Collins on Twitter.
"I'm proud to call Jason Collins a friend," Clinton tweeted.
Other NBA stars shared Clinton's sentiment, with Lakers star Kobe Bryant tweeting, "Don't suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others" and Steve Nash adding, "The time has come. Maximum respect."
The reaction wasn't limited to the basketball world. Michael Strahan, a former Superbowl winner with the New York Giants writing on Twitter, "So proud of @jasoncollins34 for having the courage to stand up and out for who he is. I support, respect and salute you!!" And filmmaker Spike Lee, well known for his devotion to the Knicks, tweeted: "Orange And Blue Skies Salutes Jason Collins."
Collins' announcement is the latest and perhaps the most significant development for gay-rights supporters in professional sports. The subject has become particularly prominent over the past month, with the U.S. Supreme Court considering the legality of California's Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage, and the federal "Defense of Marriage Act." Several NFL players, including Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe have recently emerged as major proponents of gay rights in professional sports.
Earlier this month, Ayanbadejo told the Baltimore Sun that four NFL players are considering jointly coming out as gay. And Kluwe made headlines last fall when he wrote a scathing letter to Maryland state Delegate Emmett C. Burns after Burns asked the Ravens president to "inhibit" expressions of support for gay marriage.
"It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person's right to free speech," Kluwe wrote. "To call that "hypocritical" would be to do a disservice to the word."
Others have been less empathetic to the plight of gay professional athletes. San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver found himself under the media spotlight in January after he claimed on "Artie Lange Show" that there are no gay players on the team and that if there are, they "gotta get up outta here." The team instantly distanced itself from Culliver's comments, for which he later apologized.
Collins' announcement was greeted with praise by Stanford administrators. Bernard Muir, director of athletics at Stanford University, called the 34-year-old free agent "one of our Stanford sons."
"I applaud his decision to be true to his identity and, from his own words, start this conversation in major professional sports," Muir said in a statement. "On behalf of a diverse athletic community I hope that we progress to the point in society where truthful moments like these are no longer newsworthy."
Mark Madsen, assistant coach at Stanford, played with Collins and called him "one of the greatest people you will ever meet in your life."
Madsen lauded Collins for his sense of humor, leadership, and sociable nature.
"Basketball does not define Jason Collins. His decision to come out publicly doesn't define Jason Collins. What defines Jason, is he is a first-rate human being who made a huge contribution to this University, and every team or community he has been a part of."
Collins wrote that he took the jersey number 98 when he played for the Celtics and Wizards to commemorate a year that saw "one of the most notorious antigay crimes," in which a gay University of Wyoming student was "kidnapped, tortured and lashed to a prairie fence" before dying in 1998. Collins hasn't come out to anyone in the NBA.
"I'll sit down with any player who's uneasy about my coming out," he wrote. "Being gay is not a choice. This is the tough road and at times the lonely road ... Still, if I'm up against an intolerant player, I'll set a pretty hard pick on him. And then move on."