- 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.”

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.