- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2013

Washington Wizard center Jason Collins on Monday became the first “active” player in the “big four” of American professional sports to reveal he is gay, and the immediate reaction from athletes was overwhelmingly supportive.

Collins, who has played 12 years in the NBA after a collegiate career at Stanford, made his revelation in a story Sports Illustrated published on its website Monday. It will be the cover story in the magazine’s May 6 print edition.

Bradley Beal, who just finished his rookie season with the Wizards, told The Washington Times that his opinion of Collins hasn’t changed at all and won’t change.

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“I admire the character and courage he has,” Beal said. “It was a little shocking, sure, but I don’t care personally. He’s a leader, a veteran, a mentor. He supported us all and was a great teammate.

“I can’t speak for everybody, but I think as a team we’ll be OK with it. He loves to play basketball and he’s there to play ball. We all have to leave our personal lives on the outside and play ball. If he’s comfortable with it, I’m comfortable with it. I think a lot of guys around the league are supporting him, too.”

Numerous NBA players, including Los Angeles Lakers guards Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, posted public displays of support on Twitter. So did athletes in other sports, such as the Cleveland Indians’ Nick Swisher. “I will always support people for being who they are. Happy for @jasoncollins34 that he can lead an honest life,” Swisher tweeted.

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Ernie Grunfeld, the Wizards’ president, said in a statement the team released, “We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. 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.”

Collins told Sports Illustrated he came out now because “I’ve reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful.”

Over the past 10 years, there has been a dramatic shift in public polling on gay marriage that reflects a growing acceptance level of homosexuals.

The Pew Research Center found in a March poll that 49 percent of the respondents favored same-sex marriage, while 44 percent opposed it. The same poll from 2001 showed that Americans opposed same-sex marriage by a 57 percent to 35 percent margin.

The poll showed more than a quarter of the respondents said they have changed their mind on the issue for a variety of reasons, namely that they have become more comfortable with the issue thanks to friends or family members who are gay or lesbian.

Brendan Dwyer, who teaches a sociology course at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Sport Leadership, said Collins is “our generation’s version of Jackie Robinson.” Collins, Dwyer said, “deserves credit for having the guts to go through with this.

“Maybe I’m giving society more credit than it deserves. For the most part, sports fans are ready for this. I think things are much better than [when Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947]. I think people will be more accepting as a whole. But the vocal minority always gathers the attention. The vocal minority will see this as a chance and they will make some noise.”

While most of the immediate reaction was indeed positive, it was not all that way.

In a tweet that was later deleted, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace said, “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH…” Wallace later wrote, “Never said anything was right or wrong I just said I don’t understand!! Deeply sorry for anyone that I offended.”

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