Collins emerges from shadows, changes face of sports
Jason Collins's National Basketball Association (NBA) career became a mere footnote in his profile on Monday as the towering center emerged from the shadows of the locker room by announcing he is gay.
It was a declaration that for years many had expected but never came until Collins became the first active player from any of the four major U.S. men's professional sports leagues to publicly reveal his homosexuality.
A 12-year NBA journeyman who played for six teams, Collins went from a virtual unknown to the face of a cause, a civil rights pioneer and role model in the mould of Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947.
Collins, 34, will now take his place not alongside the all-time NBA greats but, rather, alongside fearless civil rights leaders and social activists that have helped shape the attitudes of Americans.
"With his brave and honest announcement today, Jason Collins has forever changed the face of sports," Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. "No longer will prejudice and fear force gay athletes to remain silent about a fundamental part of their lives.
"By coming out and living openly while still an active NBA player, Collins has courageously shown the world that one's sexual orientation is no longer an impediment to achieving one's goals, even at the highest levels of professional sports."
Selected by the Houston Rockets in the first round of the 2001 NBA Draft with the 18th overall pick, Collins, now a free agent, split the 2012-13 season between the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.
A big, bruising defender ever ready to engage in physical battles that take place under the basket, Collins said in the Sports Illustrated essay he used to announce his sexuality on Monday that he does not possess any gay stereotypes.
He even proudly points out that one season he led the NBA in personal fouls. Even his twin brother was left stunned when Collins finally came out to him.
"I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay?," Collins told Sports Illustrated. "But I've always been an aggressive player, even in high school.
"Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn't make you soft? Who knows? That's something for a psychologist to unravel.
"My motivations, like my contributions, don't show up in box scores, and frankly I don't care about stats. Winning is what counts. I want to be evaluated as a team player."
Still, Collins's statistics do reveal the qualities of a hard-nosed, dedicated player.
In 713 career regular season games Collins, now a free agent, has averaged 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds and earned over $32 million.
He appeared in two NBA Finals but was never an all-star. His calling card was hard work and being good teammate.
"I'm not afraid to take on any opponent," Collins told Sports Illustrated. "I love playing against the best.
"Though Shaquille O'Neal is a Hall of Famer, I never shirked from the challenge of trying to frustrate the heck out of him.
"I hate to say it, and I'm not proud of it, but I once fouled a player so hard that he had to leave the arena on a stretcher."
From a close knit family growing up in Los Angeles, Collins attended Stanford University and says he never sought the spotlight.
But now the spotlight has found him and likely will not leave him as he tries to continue his NBA career.
"I've never sought the spotlight," said Collins." Though I'm coming out to the world, I intend to guard my privacy.
"I'm making this blanket statement in part to keep rumors and misunderstandings at bay. I hope fans will respect me for raising my hand. And I hope teammates will remember that I've never been an in-your-face kind of guy."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)