Young, gay males struggling with how or whether to come out about their sexuality now have someone they can really look up to Jason Collins, 7-feet tall.
The veteran NBA center announced he was gay in a first-person essay for Sports Illustrated that appeared online Monday and made him the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport.
The most you can do is stand up for what you believe in. Im much happier since coming out to my friends and family. Being genuine and honest makes me happy, he wrote. Im glad I can stop hiding and refocus on my 13th NBA season.
The response has been overwhelmingly supportive, including a tweet from Kobe Bryant and a call from President Obama.
Its a response that should ease the fears of young gay people, particularly those involved in sports. Collins, an All America at Stanford, has played for six NBA teams. A powerful, defense-oriented player who fouls more than he scores, he confounds the stereotypes that gay male athletes lack the toughness to compete.
Collins background also speaks to the randomness of sexuality. His twin brother, Jarron, his college teammate and fellow All-America who played eight seasons in the NBA, is straight. He didnt know his twin was gay until Jason told him last summer.
Collins, who finished this season with the Washington Wizards, is a free agent going into the 2013-14 season. His status makes him an interesting test for team coaches and general managers. Who will sign him? If Collins finds a place on a team, it will speak to the NBAs institutional support for gay athletes. If he goes unsigned, Collins revelation will be diminished by being a parting one.
Acceptance of gays has been growing quickly in the U.S. as the response to Collins announcement further attests. But professional sports have been a last bastion where it remained taboo. Collins has broken that barrier, making it easier for others to follow his example and making it necessary for the NBA to follow his lead.