Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant tweeted that he was proud of Collins, writing: “Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others,” followed by the words “courage” and “support.”
Asked if he hoped other athletes will follow his example, Collins told ABC: “I hope that every player makes a decision that leads to their own happiness, whatever happiness that is in life. I know that I, right now, am the happiest that I’ve ever been in my life.”
Collins said in the TV interview that he does not know of any other gay NBA players.
Even while hiding his sexual orientation, Collins says, he quietly made a statement for gay rights by wearing No. 98 with the Celtics and Wizards: 1998 was the year Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming, was killed, and the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization, was founded.
According to the General Social Survey, the public has grown increasingly accepting of gay relationships since the late 1980s. That survey found in 1987 that 76 percent of Americans thought sexual relations between adults of the same sex was morally wrong. That fell to 43 percent by 2012.
“I’m glad I’m coming out in 2013 rather than 2003. The climate has shifted; public opinion has shifted,” Collins writes in SI. “And yet we still have so much farther to go. Everyone is terrified of the unknown, but most of us don’t want to return to a time when minorities were openly discriminated against.”
While some gay athletes have expressed concerns about how earning potentials could be hurt by coming out, King said she thinks Collins‘ openness could have the opposite effect.
“I have a feeling he’s got a whole new career,” King said. “I have a feeling he’s going to make more in endorsements than he’s ever made in his life.”
On Monday evening, hours after his story appeared on the web, Collins wrote on Twitter: “All the support I have received today is truly inspirational. I knew that I was choosing the road less traveled but I’m not walking it alone.”
Momentum has been building toward this sort of announcement from a pro athlete in a top league in the United States. NFL players Brendan Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe were outspoken in support of state gay-marriage amendments during last year’s elections. Obama spoke about his support for gay marriage during his campaign.
The topic made waves during Super Bowl week when one player, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, said he wouldn’t welcome a gay member of his team. At the time, Ayanbadejo estimated that at least half of the NFL’s players would agree with what Culliver said, at least privately.
On Monday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to teams reiterating the league’s anti-discrimination policy about sexuality. It includes a section on questions teams cannot ask prospective draft picks and free agents. After the NFL combine in February, three players said officials posed questions about sexual orientation.
Earlier this month, the NHL and its players’ union partnered with an advocacy organization fighting homophobia in sports, and Commissioner Gary Bettman said the You Can Play Project underlines that “the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands.”
“I would say the NHL has been a force to kind of obviously embrace and encourage. … What (Collins) did, I think it’s definitely (good) for basketball, and the same for hockey, too. It’s going to be encouraging for more guys to step up and just be open about themselves,” Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward said.
Living in the nation’s capital last month while the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about same-sex marriage had an effect on Collins, who says “the strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable” at that time.