Boston Celtics power forward Jeff Green (8) on the court with Washington Wizards center Jason Collins (98) before the start of the game at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
WASHINGTON (CBS) -- NBA center Jason Collins has outed himself to become the first openly gay athlete in any of the major U.S. professional sports leagues. He says he didn't intend to be the first, but that since he is, he's happy to start the conversation. And that's exactly what he's done.
Collins opened a lot of eyes when he wrote these words in a Sports Illustrated article. "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay." And with that one sentence, he became the first openly gay professional athlete in a major American sport. Openly gay sports journalist Steve Buckley says, "All it takes is one brave person to step forward and say, I'm gay, and that's going to open the door for a lot of other people."
Collins writes that he made the decision to come out because he was tired of living a lie. "It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I've endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew."
President Obama phoned Collins Monday to offer support and congratulate him on having the courage to be open about his sexuality. And many of Collins' NBA colleagues have been supportive as well. NBA player Steve Nash says, "I think he's going to make a huge impact on a lot of people, I think most importantly a lot of young people."
Former NBA player John Amaechi came out after he retired. He says he's proud of Collins' decision. He says, "It's not enough to be neutral. At some point, as a person of great power and influence as an athlete, you either stand for equality or you don't."
Collins tweeted late Monday night that the support he's received since publishing his story has been inspirational.
Collins' contract with the Washington Wizards expired at the end of the year and he's now free to sign with any team. NBA commissioner David Stern says he doesn't believe any team will take Collins' sexuality into consideration when they determine whether or not to offer him a contract. Stern added that he was proud of Collins for taking a leadership role on the issue.