With those courageous words, longtime NBA player Jason Collins made history Monday by coming out as the first openly gay athlete in major professional sports.

Collins, who played some of this season for the Boston Celtics, says in an article he penned for this week’s Sports Illustrated that his decision to come out now was spurred in part by the deadly Boston explosions two weeks ago.

“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?” he writes.

Collins continues, “No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back.”

His decision comes during a year when the issue of gay athletes has been at the forefront, especially in the NFL. Before the Super Bowl, San Francisco 49ers player Chris Culliver said he wouldn’t welcome an openly gay player in the league or on his team (he later apologized for his anti-gay comments). Culliver, however, has been countered by others in the NFL who have advocated on behalf of gay rights, including former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe.

Collins, who last played for the Washington Wizards and is currently a free agent, says he’s been asked about how players in the league will respond to him after his announcement. “The simple answer is, I have no idea,” he writes. “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. Believe me, I’ve taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn’t an issue before, and it won’t be one now.”

“As far as the reaction of fans, I don’t mind if they heckle me,” Collins adds. “I’ve been booed before. There have been times when I’ve wanted to boo myself. But a lot of ill feelings can be cured by winning.”

One thing’s for sure: Collins deserves major props for his brave move that breaks a barrier in the overwhelmingly heteronormative world of sports that had forced all gay athletes to stay silent on the matter during their playing days.

— Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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