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NBA center becomes the first male professional athlete in a major sport to come out

WASHINGTON – NBA center Jason Collins made history today by becoming the first male athlete in one of the major professional sports in the U.S. to come out.

Sports Illustrated went live online today with the story, which will not appear in the print edition until May 6.

Collins co-authored the story with Franz Lidz. Here is a sampling of the article:

I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.

I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. 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.

My journey of self-discovery and self-acknowledgement began in my hometown of Los Angeles and has taken me through two state high school championships, the NCAA Final Four and the Elite Eight, and nine playoffs in 12 NBA seasons.

I've played for six pro teams and have appeared in two NBA Finals. Ever heard of a parlor game called Three Degrees of Jason Collins? If you're in the league, and I haven't been your teammate, I surely have been one of your teammates' teammates. Or one of your teammates' teammates' teammates.

Now I'm a free agent, literally and figuratively. I've reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful.

Why am I coming out now? Well, I started thinking about this in 2011 during the NBA player lockout. I'm a creature of routine. When the regular season ends I immediately dedicate myself to getting game ready for the opener of the next campaign in the fall. But the lockout wreaked havoc on my habits and forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want. With the season delayed, I trained and worked out. But I lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, hailed the announcement.

“With his brave and honest announcement today, Jason Collins has forever changed the face of sports. 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," 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. 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," he said.

“Today's announcement again shows that gay Americans are our teachers, police officers, nurses, lawyers and even our professional athletes. We contribute to every aspect of our American community and deserve the same equal rights as every American,” Griffin said.

Former President Bill Clinton tweeted: "I'm proud to call Jason Collins a friend." Collins went to college with Chelsea Clinton, and he is a friend of the family.

Chesea Clinton tweeted: "Very proud of my friend Jason Collins for having the strength & courage to be the first openly gay player in the NBA."

Jason Collins' twin brother, Jarron, said today: "I've never been more proud of him."

NBA Commissioner David Stern also says he is proud of Jason Collins: "As Adam Silver and I said to Jason, we have known the Collins family since Jason and Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family. 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."

Lakers star Kobe Bryant tweeted: "Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don't suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #B."

NBA star Steve Nash tweeted: "The time has come. Maximum respect."

Baron Davis tweeted: "I am so proud of my bro @jasoncollins34 for being real."

Rugby legend and ally Ben Cohen tweeted: "Congrats and its Great to see NBA player Jason Collins comes out as gay, first active athlete in the USA big Leagues!!!"

Openly gay singer Lance Bass tweeted: "Congrats @jasoncollins34!! Giant leap for sports - and the conversation continues!"

To read the full story, click HERE.