Collins comes out _ and support quickly follows

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Collins‘ message was not unanimously well received. Countless tweets about Collins included a gay slur. In New York, well-known sports radio host Mike Francesa called the story “a dramatic attempt to sell a magazine.” Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace had to backtrack from, delete and eventually apologize for two tweets he posted about the Collins story, in which he said he did not understand homosexuality.

Still, the praise Collins got far outweighed anything else.

“I don’t think it’s any of my business to be anything but respectful of the way people want to live their life,” Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona said.

The news apparently took almost everyone who is outside of Collins‘ innermost circle by surprise, including Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard _ a gay college student from Wyoming who was killed in 1998. Collins switched his jersey number to 98 this season, a silent tribute that he never even told the Shepard family about.

“We’re especially happy that now he feels free to be himself,” Judy Shepard said in a telephone interview. “We’re happy for him, relieved that his news is being received so well across the board.”

And it was.

Former NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson, when asked on Twitter if he ever played with a gay teammate, responded by saying, “who cares?” Actor Neil Patrick Harris, who came out nearly a decade ago, thanked Collins for “standing tall” _ a nod to his height. NBA stars Kobe Bryant (who was fined $100,000 in 2011 after using a common homophobic slur during a game) and Dwyane Wade sent messages of support. And Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts, who is gay, lauded Collins as “a man of great courage.”

“We should all be tolerant. Not only tolerant but accepting,” Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun said. “I think it’s a great thing. I think everyone should be encouraged to be comfortable and confident in who they are. I think, hopefully, that this will be the first step in the right direction for anybody that’s going through some of the same things he’s been going through.”

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AP Sports Writers R.B. Fallstrom, Dave Skretta, Antonio Gonzalez, Joseph White, Larry Lage, Noah Trister and Jon Krawczynski; Associated Press Writer Bob Moen; and Associated Press freelance writer Rich Rovito contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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