(NEW YORK) — Washington Wizards center Jason Collins says a “huge weight has been lifted” from his shoulders after becoming the first openly gay athlete in a major U.S. team sport.
“I hope that every player makes a decision that leads to their own happiness,” Collins told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview Monday night.
“I know that I, right now, am the happiest that I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “A huge weight has been lifted. I’ve already been out to my family and my friends, but just to, you know, sort of rip the Band-Aid off and come out on my own terms.”
By shattering one of the final barriers in U.S. sports, Collins said he hopes other gay athletes will “raise their hand” and realize that being gay in pro sports is not that big of a deal.
“You’re sort of waiting around for somebody else to…raise their hand,” he said. “I’m ready to raise my hand but, you know, you still look around like, ‘OK, come on, guys.’ It’s time for someone else in the room to raise their hand and say, ‘You know what? Yeah, so big deal. I can still play basketball. I can still help the team win, and that’s what’s most important.'”
Collins revealed his homosexuality in an article published on Sports Illustrated’s website Monday.
Collins began the first-person article bluntly by writing, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
With that one sentence, Collins, whose team did not make the playoffs, has thrust himself onto the national stage and become a household name overnight.
Collins has played for six teams in the course of 12 years and said he thinks it’s the right time to publicly come out before he begins to refocus on his next season. He will officially become a free agent this summer and wants to keep playing in the NBA.
Collins shrugged off the notion that more pressure will be placed on him during the offseason to land a contract with an NBA team in light of his announcement. Collins said he wants to simply be judged on his accomplishments and he fully expects future teammates will support him.
“The NBA is like a brotherhood,” he said. “And I’m looking at it that we’ll all support each other on and off the court.”
Collins’ journey to revealing he is gay in Sports Illustrated has not been an easy road for the NBA veteran. Collins said he always knew he was gay and tried to fight it.
“I sort of describe it as you know that the sky is blue but you keep telling yourself that it’s red,” he said.
Collins tried everything to convince himself he wasn’t gay and he was even engaged to a woman at one point.
“Calling off the wedding was obviously a tough decision but it was the right one because I knew I wasn’t getting married for the right reasons,” he said.
He was living a life of misery watching his twin brother and close friends start their own families. Collins knew he was unhappy and not living “an honest, genuine life.”
Through the sleepless nights and years of silence, Collins still had basketball, which provided something to which he could devote his life. But when NBA owners locked out players and delayed the start of the 2011-12 season, Collins was reminded that basketball wasn’t always going to be there for him.
“And I started thinking about, ‘What is the rest of my life going to be?'” he said.
The tipping point to go public came after Collins told his parents and received a positive response.
“But once you have that big talk with whoever that is in your family and you get that support, you get that love, you know the rest of it is kind of downhill from there,” he said.
Standing at 7-feet tall, 255 pounds, Collins said he goes against the typical gay stereotype. He’s known for his aggressive play and committing hard fouls.
“People like me are trying to rewrite that stereotype and trying to let people know that you can’t just put people in a box. You can’t just say that, ‘He’s gay. He acts this way,'” Collins said.
In the Sports Illustrated article, Collins mentions that his loyalty to his teammates held him back from coming out sooner because he didn’t want to be a distraction to them. To Collins, the team’s well-being comes first.
But Collins made a discreet statement for gay rights during his career. He wore No. 98 with the Celtics and Wizards; 1998 was year that Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming, was killed, and the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization, was founded.
“Every time I put on that jersey I was already making that statement to myself,” Collins said.
After the article was published Monday, Collins received tremendous support for his announcement from the White House, the NBA and current and former teammates.
“It’s incredible. You just try to live an honest, genuine life and next thing you know you have the president calling you,” Collins said.
“[President Obama] was incredibly supportive and he was proud of me. And said that this not only affected my life, but others going forward,” he said.
Los Angeles Lakers stars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash were just a few in the sports community showing their support for Collins.
Collins understands he’s a target and, along with the well-wishers, there are those who do not condone homosexuality.
ESPN sportscaster Chris Broussard cited Christianity in his opinion.
“If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits. It says that, you know, that’s a sin,” Broussard said Monday on ESPN’s Outside the Lines.
In a full statement posted on Twitter, Broussard said, “I realize that some people disagree with my opinion and I accept and respect that. As has been the case in the past, my beliefs have not and will not impact my ability to report on the NBA. I believe Jason Collins displayed bravery with his announcement today and I have no objection to him or anyone else playing in the NBA.”
Collins realizes that his decision to come out isn’t going to please everyone.
“I’m being honest, so if that means that I’m upsetting people, you know, there are a lot of other people in this world are being completely honest and you can’t please everyone. You just try to live your life by your values and go about your business,” he said.
He said he hopes his coming out doesn’t negatively affect his family.
“That’s the one major drawback; if there’s any kind of negative effect on my family,” he said.
Throughout the entire interview, Collins kept bringing the focus back to basketball rather than sexual orientation. When asked whether he had a message for a young boy who is striving for a career in the NBA and trying to grapple with his homosexuality, Collins once again cited basketball first.
“Keep working hard. It shouldn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter that you’re gay, but the key thing is that it’s about basketball. It’s about working hard,” Collins said. “It’s all about dedication. And that’s what you should focus on.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Andreas Preuss, CNN
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