By Ari Bloomekatz, Joe Serna and Kevin Baxter
2:49 PM EDT, April 30, 2013
Jason Collins, the first active male athlete in a major U.S. professional team to come out as gay, is receiving widespread support for his announcement.
The reaction to his news Monday was swift.
President Obama, who just last year announced his support for same-sex marriage, called Collins and told the Washington Wizards center that was "impressed by his courage," according to a White House Twitter post.
Former President Clinton, whose daughter, Chelsea, was a classmate of Collins at Stanford, said Collins' action was "an important moment for professional sports."
The reaction from the sports world was overwhelmingly positive, especially from the NBA, where many players tweeted their support of Collins' decision.
Commissioner David Stern credited Collins with assuming a "leadership mantle on this very important issue."
Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who two years ago was fined $100,000 by the NBA for directing an anti-gay slur at an official, used his Twitter feed to say he was proud of Collins, advising him not to "suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others."
Former Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal thanked Collins for "showing all of us what leadership looks like."
Collins chose to make his sexuality public in an article in the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated. In the article, which was posted online Monday, he wrote with passion about how difficult it was for him to remain silent last month, when he was playing for the Wizards in an arena a few blocks from the Supreme Court as the justices were hearing arguments regarding same-sex marriage.
"Here was my chance to be heard," Collins wrote, "and I couldn't say a thing. I didn't want to answer questions and draw attention to myself. Not while I was still playing."The outpouring of support was especially welcome and surprising to Wade Davis, a former NFL player. Davis so feared the reaction of teammates and former teammates that he stayed closeted until eight years after his last NFL game.
"This is groundbreaking on so many different levels," Davis said, acknowledging that he may have been wrong about how people would react. "Once we actually do [come out], we're like, 'Wow, that was much easier than I ever imagined.' "
Whether all that goodwill leads to a job offer for Collins, a 7-footer from Northridge who is now a free agent, remains to be seen.
It's not known how fans will react should he return to the court.
The Clippers' Grant Hill, who praised Collins on Monday, said earlier this season that gays are "still taboo in the locker room" while defensive back Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers was forced to apologize just before February's Super Bowl after saying that he would not accept a gay teammate.
Now that Collins has come out, gay rights activists are hoping athletes will no longer need to choose between truth and a career.
"This is the first domino," said Patrick Burke, a scout with hockey's Philadelphia Flyers and the founder of You Can Play, a group advocating equality for athletes regardless of sexual orientation. "The floodgates are about to open here."
National political leaders, gay rights groups and entertainment icons also spoke in support of Collins."Major league sports has remained one of the last bastions of homophobia, but that has slowly been changing,” said L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center spokesman Jim Key in an email. "This announcement has been a long time coming. We're incredibly grateful and proud of Jason Collins for being open about his sexual orientation and for the role he'll play in inspiring [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] youth.”
Aaron McQuade, head of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation sports program, called Collins an "exceptionally courageous man" and quipped that the NBA star was also "honestly, a really great defender."
McQuade and others described Collins as a trailblazer -- the only active player in the five major men's professional sports leagues to come out -- and that others would see his example and the support he gets and likely follow in kind. He said he hoped to see a cascade of professional athletes in the five major sports to follow suit.
A gay athlete who comes out while still playing is what "we’ve all been waiting for," said Michael Messner, a professor of sociology and gender studies at USC who writes about masculinity in sports.Collins’ disclosure, along with its quick embrace by newsmakers, could show times are changing, some say.
"No longer will prejudice and fear force gay athletes to remain silent about a fundamental part of their lives," Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “By coming out and living openly while still an active NBA player, Collins has courageously shown the world that one's sexual orientation is no longer an impediment to achieving one's goals, even at the highest levels of professional sports.”
Collins also received a flurry of support from non-sports stars and advocacy groups on Twitter, including director Spike Lee and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, who tweeted that he was proud of Collins and "... we will stand with you as you continue on your journey."
Clinton also tweeted that he was "proud to call Jason Collins a friend."
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