Jason Collins on the cover of the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated (SI)
(USA Today) -- Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, is the first active male athlete in a major American team sport to come out as gay.
Collins made the announcement in a first-person essay for Sports Illustrated that appeared online Monday.
"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay," Collins wrote in the first paragraph of the story that will run in the May 6 issue. It is co-written with Franz Lidz.
There was widespread support in the city of Atlanta, where Collins played three seasons with the Hawks.
"It's never easy to be a trailblazer," said Jeff Graham of Georgia Equality. "The real impact is going to be on a younger generation, on the college or high school athlete who are really struggling right now wondering if it's safe to come out. Now they have a role model."
"I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, 'I'm different,' " Collins wrote. "If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand."
Collins is a free agent who finished this past season with the Washington Wizards. He wants to continue his career.
Former professional football player Kordell Stewart, who now works for Atlanta's 92.9 The Game, says "hats off" to Collins, but adds there will be some who won't accept a gay athlete in the locker room.
"Not too many guys are going to be comfortable," said Stewart. "The one's who've known him are going to accept him. It's the younger guys who may have questions."
"When I was younger I dated women," Collins wrote. "I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue."
Jarron Collins, Jason's twin, also wrote a first-person piece for SI in which he said his brother told him last summer: "I won't lie. I had no idea. We talked, he answered my questions, 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."
Former President Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea was a classmate of Collins at Stanford, issued a statement of support saying: "Jason's announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community. ... I hope that everyone, particularly Jason's colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned. "
NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement: "Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue."
GLAAD, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media advocacy organization, issued a statement of support.
"'Courage' and 'inspiration' are words that get thrown around a lot in sports, but Jason Collins has given both ideas a brand new context," said Aaron McQuade, head of GLAAD's sports program. "We hope that his future team will welcome him, and that fans of the NBA and sports in general will applaud him."
Collins has started 476 games, including nine this year, over 12 NBA seasons. He's averaged 3.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
He played 6½ seasons for the then-New Jersey Nets, who drafted him 18th overall in 2001. His best season was 2004-05, when he posted 6.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 0.9 blocks a game and led the NBA in personal fouls.
Collins was traded in 2008 to the Memphis Grizzlies. He finished that season with them before a one-season stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He helped the Atlanta Hawks to playoff berths from 2010-12, then this season joined the Boston Celtics. He was dealt to the Wizards midseason.
Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld also issued a statement, saying: "We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career."
"We have great respect for Jason and his message today. Creating an environment where we support, respect, and accept our players' individual rights is very important to us," said Atlanta Hawks Managing Partner and NBA Governor Bruce Levenson. "Jason represented everything that we look for as a member of the Atlanta Hawks and we are proud he wore our jersey."
"Our focus will always be on bringing in players that can contribute to the greater good of the Atlanta Hawks and ensuring that we create the most accepting, respectful, and productive environment for players to succeed," said Hawks President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Danny Ferry.
Collins received support from fellow players as well.
Kobe Bryant tweeted: "Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don't suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU"
Bryant's Laker teammate Steve Nash also offered his support tweeting: "The time has come. Maximum respect."
But not everyone has been supportive. Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace posted and later removed the following tweet:
"All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH..."