Jason Collins’ public announcement Monday that he’s gay may open the doors for other male professional athletes to open up about their sexuality—but they may still face obstacles along the way, said one local LGBT community leader.
“I do think we’ll see people more athletes coming out, I don’t think it makes it any easier necessarily, they still have to deal with a lot of the unknown so it’s still going to take a lot of courage for folks to come out,” said Long Island GLBT Service Network CEO David Kilmnick. “But I think Jason is certainly going to serve as a role model to see how liberating it is to be able to do this.”
Collins, a journeyman NBA center who got his start with the then-New Jersey Nets in 2001, revealed he’s gay in a Sports Illustrated article published on the magazine’s website Monday. The news was met with applause from across the sports world and the reverberations were felt around the country, as well as in the nation’s capital.
Collins, currently a free agent, is the first active athlete from any of the four major sports (NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL) to publicly come out.
“I think it’s a great thing,” President Barack Obama said at a surprise White House press conference Tuesday. “And I think America should be proud that this is just one more step in this ongoing recognition that we treat everybody fairly.”
Collins also received a shot of support from fellow NBA player Kobe Bryant who posted on Twitter that he was “proud” of the 11-year pro for announcing he’s gay.
“Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others,” the Los Angeles Lakers star tweeted.
The next step, said Kilmnick, is not for people to recognize Collins as the “gay basketball player,” but simply just as an athlete playing the game he loves.
“Hes’ a basketball player that’s gay,” Kilmnick said. “Just like Jeremy Lin wasn’t the Asian basketball player…he was a basketball player who is Asian.”
Collins sat down with “Good Morning America” in his first major TV interview since the article hit the web and noted that loyalty to his teammates held him back from coming out sooner. Collins said he didn’t want to be a distraction. It’s “always been about the team,” he told GMA.
“When you finally get to that point of acceptance, there’s nothing more beautiful,” he added.
The seven-foot center with a 3.6 point per game career scoring average admitted that it’s “mind-boggling” that he’s the first active gay athlete to reveal his sexuality.
“I never set out to be the first and obviously you’re sort of waiting around for somebody else to raise their hand and I’m ready to raise my hand but you still look around like ‘Okay, come on guys,'” he said.
Kilmnick said he wasn’t surprised by the NBA veteran’s announcement, but he believes there’s plenty of work to be done before gay professional athletes are fully accepted.
“He’s setting the stage for that to happen but it’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to take years, it’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of education,” he said.