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NBA center Jason Collins made history today. He became the first active NBA player to come out of the closet.
The 34-year-old Los Angeles native came out in an emotional first person essay to be published in the May 6 edition of Sports Illustrated. In it, Collins says he struggled to reach this point in his career and personal life but decided to hold off on the announcement for his team’s sake.
“Loyalty to my team is the real reason I didn’t come out sooner,” writes the seven-foot Washington Wizard center. “When I signed a free-agent contract with Boston last July, I decided to commit myself to the Celtics and not let my personal life become a distraction. When I was traded to the Wizards, the political significance of coming out sunk in. I was ready to open up to the press, but I had to wait until the season was over.”
In his essay he confessed to dating women in years past—even getting engaged at one point. “I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue,” said Collins.
In this new phase of his career as a free agent, Collins hopes his personal life won’t become an issue for him. More importantly, he hopes his teammates and coaches won’t treat him differently in a league where players have spoken out against homosexuality in the past. “Personally, I don’t like to dwell in someone else’s private life, and I hope players and coaches show me the same respect,” writes Collins. “When I’m with my team I’m all about working hard and winning games. A good teammate supports you no matter what.”
He even took a short moment to address concerns that locker room interactions may become awkward. He quickly silenced critics and ensured his professionalism. “Believe me, I’ve taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons,” says the athlete. “My behavior wasn’t an issue before, and it won’t be one now. My conduct won’t change. I still abide by the adage, ‘What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.’ I’m still a model of discretion.”
At the end of his coming out essay, Collins says he’s looking forward to his 13th season in the NBA. He’s well aware of the pressures that come with being openly gay in such a hetero-normative sport. “Next season a few more eyeballs are likely to be on me,” said Collins. “That only motivates me to work harder.”