Jason Collins is the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. The 34-year-old Washington Wizards center revealed that he is gay in a first person essay in Sports Illustrated.

Collins, who has been playing in the NBA since 2001, said he’s happy to be the first and thinks it’s overdue: “If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand,” he wrote.

He also admitted he was closeted for a long time and even dated women: “When I was younger I dated women. 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.”

The NBA veteran, who has played for the New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, said the Boston Marathon bombing influenced him to live in truth: “The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?”

Collins, who has a twin brother, Jarron, acknowledged that the social climate toward LGBT people is better than it has been in the past: “I’m glad I’m coming out in 2013 rather than 2003. The climate has shifted; public opinion has shifted. And yet we still have so much farther to go. Everyone is terrified of the unknown, but most of us don’t want to return to a time when minorities were openly discriminated against. I’m impressed with the straight pro athletes who have spoken up so far — Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo. The more people who speak out, the better, gay or straight. It starts with President Obama’s mentioning the 1969 Stonewall riots, which launched the gay rights movement, during his second inaugural address. And it extends to the grade-school teacher who encourages her students to accept the things that make us different.”

The center, who averaged 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game during his 12-season NBA career, says he is looking forward to hitting the court as an openly gay man: “I’m glad I can stop hiding and refocus on my 13th NBA season.”

Read more from his article here.

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