WASHINGTON, May 1 – With US President Barack Obama praising his courage, NBA center Jason Collins was awestruck on Tuesday after becoming the first major US professional team sport athlete to reveal that he is gay.
“Not even in my wildest dreams could I ever imagine the support that I’ve received,” Collins told ABC television in his first interview since revealing his sexuality on Monday in an essay for Sports Illustrated.
“Random people just come up and shake your hand and say thank you and it touches you and you just feel honored and humbled.”
Obama, who telephoned Collins to express his support on Monday, called the overwhelming support for the seven-foot (213-centimeter) veteran of 12 NBA seasons a sign of growing acceptance of homosexuality in American society.
“I told him I couldn’t be prouder,” Obama said at a White House news conference.
“One of the extraordinary measures of progress that we’ve seen in this country has been the recognition that the (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender) community deserves full equality — not just partial equality, not just tolerance, but a recognition that they’re fully part of the American family.”
Collins began dealing with his changed role from NBA journeyman back-up big man to a role model for gay people.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than the leader of the free world giving you a call and saying you did a good thing, I did something not only to help myself but to empower others,” Collins told the New York Times on Tuesday.
“He was incredibly supportive and said that this not only affected my life, but others. And he really stressed the importance of that,” Collins told ABC.
Not everyone has been supportive, with ESPN NBA commentator Chris Broussard calling Collins a “sinner.”
“I don’t agree with his statement,” Collins told the Times. “This is all about tolerance and acceptance. This is where the discussion begins.”
“You can’t please everyone,” Collins told ABC. “You just try to live your life by your values and go about your business.”
Retired NBA star Charles Barkley says there are gay NBA players who have chosen not to come out.
“We’ve all played with gay guys. We didn’t treat them bad,” Barkley said, adding, “For us to have an honest discussion, if guys don’t like it, they should be able to say it and not get crucified.”
Collins said he did not know of any other gay players in the NBA.
“Statistically speaking, I’m probably not the only one,” Collins said. “Since no one else has raised their hand, you don’t know for sure. I’m 99.9 percent sure there are others.
“I know I’m ready, and I think the country is ready, to support an openly gay basketball player.”
Openly gay tennis legend Martina Navratilova has been a role model for Collins.
“I look at her as one of my heroes,” he told the Times. “Hopefully going forward I can be someone else’s role model.
“Now it’s time for me to pave the road for somebody else, to be a great teammate, society being the team… There are those who are going to come after me and it’s my responsibility to lift them up.”
Collins told ABC his message to young gay NBA hopefuls was to keep working.
“It doesn’t matter that you’re gay, but the key thing is that it’s about basketball,” he said. “It’s about working hard. It’s about sacrificing for your team. It’s about dedication.”
Collins is seeking a new contract at age 34 and said several NBA coaches have supported him, confident he will not be snubbed for a new deal because of his revelation when the next NBA season opens in six months.
“I’m sure teams will look at my basketball, look at what I have to offer,” he told the Times. “My role in the NBA is as a backup center and I know I’ll be ready at any moment.”
Collins said he hopes to marry a man and raise children, adding: “I’m very optimistic of what the future brings.”