Jason Collins, an NBA center who ended this season with the Washington Wizards, says he's gay, becoming the first openly gay athlete playing in one of the leagues considered to be the "Big Four" of major North American professional sports.
In an essay in Sports Illustrated written with Franz Lidz, Mr. Collins writes that he started thinking about it during the NBA player lockout in 2011.
"[The lockout wreaked havoc on my habits and forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want," he wrote. "With the season delayed, I trained and worked out. But I lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided."
He first came out to his aunt Teri and said he realized he needed to go public when Rep. Joe Kennedy III, Massachusetts Democrat and his old roommate at Stanford, told Mr. Collins he marched in Boston's gay pride parade.
He said he waited because he didn't want to be a distraction when he signed a free-agent contract with Boston in July, but "when I was traded to the Wizards, the political significance of coming out sunk in. I was ready to open up to the press, but I had to wait until the season was over."
Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld issued a statement Monday in support of Mr. Collins.
"We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly," Mr. Grunfeld said. "He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career. Those qualities will continue to serve him both as a player and as a positive role model for others of all sexual orientation."
Mr. Collins wrote that he's impressed with Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, two straight athletes who have spoken up in favor of gay rights recently.
"I'm glad I'm coming out in 2013 rather than 2003," he writes. "The climate has shifted; public opinion has shifted. And yet we still have so much farther to go. Everyone is terrified of the unknown, but most of us don't want to return to a time when minorities were openly discriminated against."
Former NBA player John Amaechi became the first NBA player to come out publicly in February 2007, but he had already retired from the league.
Mr. Collins, whose professional career started in 2001, played for New Jersey, Memphis, Minnesota and Atlanta before his stints in Boston and Washington this season.
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