'Incredible' support for Jason Collins coming out as gay

NBA free agent Jason Collins said Tuesday that he has gotten "incredible" support since coming out as the first openly gay player in one of the four major North American pro sports.

Athletes, Obama applaud openly gay NBA player

Jason Collins, in a photo released Tuesday by ABC, received support from the White House after his announcement. (Eric McCandless/ABC/Associated Press)

Jason Collins said he has gotten "incredible" support since coming out as the first openly gay player in one of the four major North American pro sports leagues.

Collins sat down for an interview that was aired by ABC's Good Morning America early Tuesday, one day after the veteran NBA centre revealed his sexuality in a first-person story posted on Sports Illustrated's website.

"I think, I know, in my personal life, I'm ready and I think the country is ready for supporting an openly gay basketball player," Collins told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

Obama praises Collins at news conference

U.S. President Barack Obama says he told NBA centre Jason Collins that he "couldn't be prouder of him" for coming out as gay while playing in a major sports league.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Obama said Collins showed the progress the United States has made in recognizing that gays and lesbians deserve full equality. He said they deserve "not just tolerance but recognition that they're fully a part of the American family."

Associated Press

Collins said he went through something akin to a 12-step program while deciding to come out, dealing with emotions such as anger and denial.

"But when you finally get to that point of acceptance, there's nothing more beautiful than just allowing yourself to really be happy and be comfortable in your own skin," Collins said.

Dozens of NBA players sent messages to Collins after the story was posted Monday, many doing so through social media. The support didn't stop there, with President Barack Obama also calling to offer his support.

"It's incredible," Collins said. "Just try to live an honest, genuine life and the next thing you know, you have the president calling you.

"He was incredibly supportive and he was proud of me [and] said this not only affected my life, but others going forward."

'My role model'

Collins said he does not know of any other gay NBA players. He also told ABC that he was overwhelmed by the reaction of tennis legend Martina Navratilova, who came out in 1981 and called him a pioneer after he went public with his story.

"I look at her as one of my heroes — the dignity and class that she's lived her life and all that she's achieved in her career," Collins said. "She is my role model.

"Hopefully, going forward, I can be someone else's role model."

Asked by Stephanopoulos what his story could mean to children who play basketball and are worried about their futures because they are gay, Collins offered a simple piece of advice.

"It doesn't matter that you're gay," Collins said. "The key thing is that it's about basketball.

"It's about working hard. It's about sacrificing for your team.

"It's all about dedication. That's what you should focus on."

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