NBA veteran Jason Collins has lived with a secret. But in the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated and on SI.com, the 12-year center divulged: "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."
Collins is the first active male athlete on a major professional team in the U.S. to acknowledge he was gay.
The revelation was met with the usual reactions. There were those who praised him, like NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, and offered support, including his team, the Washington Wizards, which tweeted, "We are extremely proud of Jason & support his decision to live his life proudly and openly." There were others who disapproved or simply didn't understand, like Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace who tweeted: "All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys."
Others have admitted they were gay after their playing days, such as former Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo, who came out as gay in 2002. He retired in 1999 after playing for five NFL teams, including the Packers in 1991 and 1992.
It shouldn't be a surprise. Many people hide their sexuality because of the intolerance that awaits them when they come out.
But Collins' action is commendable and brave. He surely will face criticism and ill-will from fans and other players, but Collins decided he couldn't hide anymore. Nor should he.
Some equate Collins with the Brooklyn Dodgers' Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947. That might be stretching it.
But it was an act that took courage because there are those who will disapprove and their disapproval can take the form of hateful and hurtful speech and actions. After all, the number on Collins' jersey, No. 98, commemorates the 1998 death of Matthew Shepard who was kidnapped, tortured and killed in Wyoming when others found out he was gay.
Many players, and many non-athletes, will continue to hide their sexuality and continue to "live a lie," as Collins said he did, because of the reception they're likely to get.
But, "the more athletes that come out the better, because it definitely breaks down stereotypes," former Packer Tuaolo told KARE-TV of Minneapolis on Monday. "We definitely have come a long way."
He's right. We have come a long way as a society. Even the Boy Scouts of America are re-examining their ban of gay Scouts and leaders. And the outpouring of support for Collins is a welcome reaction and is drowning out his detractors.
But we have work to do. Ostracizing and discriminating against people over their sexual orientation will still occur, but if Collins' admission helps our professional sports and, in turn, society confront this and see that what defines a person is how he or she treats others and not whether he or she is gay or straight, then it may someday be remembered as a groundbreaking moment, perhaps on the same level of Jackie Robinson.