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NBA player Jason Collins has become the first male professional athlete in the major four American sports leagues to come out as gay. Collins wrote a first-person account posted Monday on Sports Illustrated's website. He finished this past season with the Washington Wizards and is now a free agent. (Associated Press)<br>

NBA player Jason Collins has become the first male professional athlete in the major four American sports leagues to come out as gay. Collins wrote a first-person account posted Monday on Sports Illustrated's website. He finished this past season with the Washington Wizards and is now a free agent. (Associated Press)

Gazzolo Column: Collins starts the conversation by raising his hand

Last Modified: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 4:14 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Jason Collins is not the first gay player in American sports history, but he is likely the bravest.

He will surely be the most famous for now.

Collins, a veteran NBA center, became the first male in an American professional team sport to admit he is a homosexual.

Surprising to many, the world did not stop rotating and lighting bolts did not come crashing down from the sky.

Instead, we just saw a man coming of age in a world that is either ready or not to hear such a thing.

It is up to us how we react to such news, not Collins.

Male sports locker rooms are the most macho places on the Earth. Political correctness does not exist. More often, anything goes.

Do in the board room what you do in a locker room and you would be fired, sued and possibly arrested in that order. Yet in the comforts of a team dressing room you are considered good for the club, a team player and likely somebody who keeps the group loose.

More lies are told inside a locker room then just about any other place on the planet, except maybe a high school hallway.

Both are done for the same reasons, to be one of the crowd and to get along with everybody else, not to stand out.

As of today, Jason Collins will always stand out.

For years Collins, who has a twin brother who is also an NBA center, was left to feel as if his own locker room was a prison. A place where he had to go but could never be himself.

Now, he tells the world he is free.

I say good for him and good for pro sports.

There will be snickers, fingers pointed and a few fans will find a way to get their points across. This happens all the time at NBA games anyway.

Yet, Collins seems ready.

“I’ve been asked how other players will respond to my announcement. The simple answer is, I have no idea,” Collins wrote in a first-person story on Sports Illustrated website. “I’m a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room. ... As far as the reaction of fans, I don’t mind if they heckle me. I’ve been booed before.”

He says he decided to come out because nobody else has before him.

Some players will talk behind his back. It happened to Magic Johnson, who was forced to retire once after he announced he tested HIV positive.

Karl Malone, among others, spoke openly about their concerns. Education changed their minds.

Johnson is now embraced for his leadership in the fight against AIDS.

It is likely that one day Collins will be looked upon the same way.

“Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start,” he continued. “It all comes down to education. I’ll sit down with any player who’s uneasy about my coming out. Being gay is not a choice. This is the tough road and at times the lonely road.”

But, he has been on a lonely road for some time.

What makes this even more brave is Collins doesn’t have a contract. He is a free agent looking for a team. His hope is to catch on but his numbers from last year are not promising.

At best, he would be a bench player and signing him might also take some courage. It is one thing to take a chance on team chemistry for a star. It is another to do so for a bench player.

Some general mangers could believe the risk outweighs any rewards.

Collins isn’t stupid, he knows this. His risk of speaking out far outweighs any personal rewards.

He made himself a marked man when he could have easily drifted off into the sunset. Nobody would have even been the wiser. But, we would not have been any better off.

Somebody had to take the lead role in this and Collins is more than willing to do so.

Now, it is up to us to follow.

“If I had my way, someone else would have already done this,” he wrote. “Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”

It will be nice when in the future a player’s sexuality doesn’t matter.

Years ago, Jackie Robinson proved it was what was inside a man that counted.

Hopefully, we have already learned that.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

Posted By: Bob On: 4/30/2013

Title: Are you kidding............

You idiot..........you compared this fool to Jackie Robinson...............please dont make that comparison........this chump only wants to make money since he is free agent and lacks skills to stay in the league...........................He goes against every thing that is in Bible .....................Where does it say that it is natural for a man to be with another man.........and why does he have to come out and talk about his sexuality in the first place....................Please dont act like he is another Jackie Robinson..........

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