- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 30, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) - Last summer, NBA veteran Jason Collins considered joining an old Stanford college roommate, U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, at Boston’s gay pride parade.

Collins eventually decided he shouldn’t, because he wanted to keep his secret safe: For more than a decade as a professional athlete, he had remained silent about his sexuality, worried about what teammates, opponents, fans _ the world, really _ might think.

Then came the Boston Marathon bombings two weeks ago, which Collins says “reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?”

So after having, he explains, “endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie,” Collins became the first active player in one of the four major U.S. pro sports leagues to come out as gay. He wrote a first-person article posted Monday on Sports Illustrated’s website that begins: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”

Most recently a little-used reserve center for the Washington Wizards after a midseason trade from the Boston Celtics, the 7-foot Collins is a free agent who can sign with any team. He wants to keep playing in the NBA.

And he plans to be in Boston on June 8, marching alongside Kennedy at the city’s 2013 gay pride parade.

“I didn’t doubt for a second, knowing he was gay, that he would be the one to do it,” Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, told The Associated Press. “I’ve never known him to look for publicity, or to look for the spotlight, but given that no one else would raise their hand, I knew he would do it.”

Added Kennedy: “I’m so proud of him. And I’m so proud to call him a friend.”

In an interview taped Monday and aired Tuesday morning, Collins told ABC’s “Good Morning America”: “I think the country is ready for supporting an openly gay basketball player.”

His announcement Monday, nearly two weeks after the Wizards‘ season ended, immediately drew praise and backing not only from pals, current and former teammates and coaches, the NBA itself, and a sponsor, but also from the White House. President Barack Obama called him _ “he was incredibly supportive and he was proud of me,” Collins told ABC _ along with former President Bill Clinton, and athletes in various other sports.

“I certainly appreciate it, as a gay person. Any time you can have someone this high-profile come out, it’s just so helpful, particularly to young people. We’ve reached a tipping point,” said Billie Jean King, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame who won 12 Grand Slam singles titles.

“We’ve got to get rid of the shame. That’s the main thing,” King said in a telephone interview. “And Jason’s going to help that. He’s going to help give people courage to come out.”

In texts to the AP, Wizards guard Garrett Temple wrote, “I was surprised. I didn’t know and I was right next to him in the locker room. It definitely took a lot of courage for him to come out. He was a great teammate,” and rookie Bradley Beal wrote: “I didn’t know about it! I don’t think anyone did! I am proud of his decision to come out and express the way he feels and I’m supportive of that!!”

Collins‘ coach with the Celtics, Doc Rivers, drew a comparison between Monday’s announcement and Jackie Robinson’s role when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

“I am extremely happy and proud of Jason Collins. He’s a pro’s pro. He is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite `team’ players I have ever coached,” Rivers said. “If you have learned anything from Jackie Robinson, it is that teammates are always the first to accept. It will be society who has to learn tolerance.”

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