Support Pours in for Out Athlete Jason Collins

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Monday April 29, 2013

Just hours after basketball veteran Jason Collins revealed he is gay in a first-person account on Sports Illustrated's website on Monday, supporters rushed to social media websites and made statements lauding the 34-year-old athlete for his decision to come out.

Former President Bill Clinton issued a statement saying that he's known Collins since he was a student at Stanford and friends with his daughter, Chelsea.

"Jason's announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community," Clinton said. "It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities."

Clinton also urged fans and colleagues to support and respect the basketball player, who has played for six teams in 12 seasons. Collins currently plays for the Washington Wizards after being traded from the Boston Celtics in February.

Clinton called Collins' revelation an "important moment" for professional sports. The former president said the athlete is "a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek - to be able to be who we are, to do our work, to build families and to contribute to our communities." He also tweeted, "I'm proud to call Jason Collins a friend." Chelsea echoed her father's sentiments when she tweeted, "Very proud of my friend Jason Collins for having the strength & courage to be the first openly gay player in the NBA."

Collins' announcement made international headlines on Monday as he made history and broke down a sports barrier for being the first out male athlete in a major professional sport.

"I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport," Collins wrote in his Sports Illustrated piece. "But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, 'I'm different.' If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand."

Washington Supports Collins

White House spokesman Jay Carney called his decision courageous. He added that the White House supports him and hopes Collins’ teammates will do the same. "We view that as another example of the progress that has been made and the evolution that has been taking place in this country," Carney said.

The NBA star received support from Rep. Joe Kennedy III, (D-Mass.), who was his college roommate. Kennedy tweeted on Monday that, "I’ve always been proud to call (Collins) a friend, and I’m even prouder to stand with him today." The politician also released a separate statement and said Collins has "the biggest heart you will ever find" and that "he gives everything he’s got to those of us lucky enough to be in his life."

Collins said that Kennedy’s participation in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade helped push him to come out.

"I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy," he wrote in Sports Illustrated. "I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn’t even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator."

Russell Simmons, the business magnate who is the co-founder of the hip-hop label Def Jam, weighed in and tweeted, "proud of Washington Wizards’ player Jason Collins (@JasonCollins34) for coming out. We will stand with you as you continue on your journey." Simmons made similar remarks when R&B superstar Frank Ocean wrote an open letter on his Tumblr and revealed that he’s had a relationship with a man.

Family & Friends Have His Back

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin praised Collins’ coming out as well. In a statement, Griffin said, "Jason Collins’ commitment to living openly is a monumental step forward toward greater equality and he immediately becomes a role model for youth all across this country," he said. "His actions today tell LGBT young people that what will define our success in life is our character and dedication, not our sexual orientation. At a moment when millions are reflecting on the life and legacy of Jackie Robinson, Jason Collins is a hero for our own times.

"Today’s announcement again shows that gay Americans are our teachers, police officers, nurses, lawyers and even our professional athletes," he continued. "We contribute to every aspect of our American community and deserve the same equal rights as every American."

Fellow athletes didn’t hesitate to back Collins. Kobe Bryant tweeted that he’s proud of Collins and wrote, "Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #Mambaarmystandup #BYOU." Ben Cohen, a former U.K. rugby player and gay icon, tweeted, "Congrats and its Great to see NBA Player Jason Collins come out as gay, first active athlete in the USA big leagues!!! @StandUpFdn"

Iconic athletes, basketball player Magic Johnson, and out tennis champ Martina Navratilova also tweeted their support and said they back Collins. Additionally, NFL’s Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluew, who have both been amazing alies, took to Twitter as well, and lauded the NBA veteran.

Even officials from the Major League Baseball commented on Collins’ coming out as the organization’s official Twitter account wrote, "The baseball world voices its support for @Jasoncollins34." The Washington Wizard’s released a statement on Twitter: "#Wizards Statement ’We are extremely proud of Jason & support his decision to live his life proudly and openly.’"

Collins’ twin brother, Jarron Collins, who was drafted by the NBA in 2001 at the same time as his brother, told Sports Illustrated in a separate piece that he had "no idea" that his twin was gay.

"I hugged him and I digested what he had told me. At the end of the day, this is what matters: He’s my brother, he’s a great guy, and I want him to be happy. I’ll love him and I’ll support him and, if necessary, I’ll protect him," he said. "What does Jason want out of this? He wants to live his life. He wants a relationship, he wants a family, he wants to settle down. He wants to move forward with his personal life while maintaining his life as a professional basketball player. That’s all, really."

Jarron Collins added that the announcement will surprise some people and he is already anticipating questions, like "Are you the gay twin or the straight one?’" he added.

"This is uncharted territory, and no one can predict how it will play out. It’s a big deal -- but it’s also not a big deal. When the media crush is over, Jason will have the strength to deal with whatever challenges come from being openly gay. Today, Jason has taken a huge weight off his shoulders. And I’ve never been more proud of him."

The Right Strikes

The news even impacted iconic director Spike Lee, who tweeted, "I Truly Believe There Are Players In NBA Who Already Knew About Jason Collins (Besides His Twin Brother) And Others Who Haven’t Come Out." In another tweet Lee, who is a huge basketball fan, wrote, "Orange And Blue Skies Salutes Jason Collins. Thank You For Your Courage,A Slam Dunk Against HOMOPHOBIA. And Dat’s Da "FREEDOM’Truth,Ruth."

It should come as no surprise that the ultra-right have shrugged off Collins’ groundbreaking announcement. Though many conservative power players have yet to voice their opinion, Mediaite points out, editor-at-large of the conservative news site mocked the athlete.

"So, Jason Collins is a hero because he’s gay? Our standard for heroism has dropped quite a bit since Normandy," Ben Shapiro tweeted. "If the only way you can make Sports Illustrated is by announcing your sexual proclivities, you’re a bad player," he wrote in another tweet. Shapiro continued on his rant and said radio host Mark Levin, comedian Adam Carolla, and Republican Senator Ted Cruz are among his heroes.

Chris Barron, the founder of the gay Republican group GOProud, slammed Shapiro as he tweeted to the editor, "Douche -> @benshapiro."

Conservative pundit Matt Barber, who has been extremely vocal about his opposition to LGBT rights, went further and tweeted, "When will the first brave athlete ’come out’ & acknowledge that he & his mother hook up? We need role models for incestuous kids! Courage!"

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