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Collins is credited with being the first “active” player to come out in one of the leagues that make up what is considered the “big four” of American professional sports: the NBA, the NHL, the NFL and MLB. Retired players have come out in pro sports, as have a number of female athletes such as tennis standout Martina Navratilova.

But Collins‘ active status may be just a technicality. Acquired from the Boston Celtics on Feb. 21, Collins played in six games for the Wizards. They are his sixth team. He becomes a free agent July 1 and there’s no guarantee he gets signed by another team. Collins, who has made approximately $33 million in his career, has career averages of 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds.

“There’s a difference between someone coming out at 34 rather than 22,” Dwyer said. “I hope he can be a role model, that people don’t have to wait until the end of their careers. It is interesting that he did it as a free agent. What team will take the risk now? There will be some positives and some negatives. It takes a lot of courage to do what Jason did, regardless of the time.”

Robert McGarry agrees. He’s the director of education for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network based in New York City. Much of his organization’s work, McGarry said, is dedicated toward working with younger people and those who coach and mentor them.

“Certainly, for the work we do, it sends a message to P.E. teachers and coaches that openly gay athletes exist,” he said. “I think it is an historic milestone for pro sports and also for youth and college athletes, any [gay] athlete who aspires to be a pro athlete.”

Support for Collins came from beyond those who play pro sports.

President Obama called Collins to express support, and first lady Michelle Obama applauded him on Twitter: “So proud of you, Jason Collins! This is a huge step forward for our country. We’ve got your back!”

Former President Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea attended Stanford with Collins, urged fans, players and others to be supportive.

Will Collins’ move lead to other athletes doing the same? Dwyer and McGarry aren’t so sure.

“We’ve seen in other areas of our social world that it has had a positive effect,” McGarry said. “I think athletes will watch this pretty closely and see how it unfolds. Hopefully it will as it has so far, in a mostly positive manner, and athletes will get the message that it is a safe environment in which to do that.”

Said Dwyer, “Sports culture is still extremely male, extremely heterosexual, extremely masculine. You’re talking about a lot of younger individuals who have a lot of money on the line with future contracts. They’re going to wait and see what happens.”

The Wizards’ Beal isn’t sure that will be the case.

“I think,” he said, “you’ll see a lot more of this around sports.”

• Seth McLaughlin, Amanda Comak and Rich Campbell contributed to this report.