White House lauds NBA player for gay admission

The White House is commending NBA veteran Jason Collins for becoming the first active male player in the four major American professional sports to come out as gay.

Michelle Obama: This is a huge step for our country

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, and first lady Michelle Obama threw their support at gay NBA player Jason Collins, with Michelle Obama tweeting, "We've got your back!" (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The White House is commending NBA veteran Jason Collins for becoming the first active male player in the four major American professional sports to come out as gay.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called that decision courageous and says the White House supports Collins. He says he hopes the 34-year-old centre's NBA colleagues will also offer support.

Support north of border

NBA veteran Jason Collins received support from Canada Monday as he became the first active male player in the four major North American professional sports to come out as gay.

"Happy for my former teammate Jason Colllins. A true American. 'home of the free because of the brave'," tweeted Toronto Raptors forward Rudy Gay.

"NBA player Jason Collins comes out as openly gay, Good for him Athletes are more open and forward thinking than we get credit for his choice," offered veteran CFL receiver Geroy Simon.

Toronto Maple Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul agreed it was a big day for sports.

"Obviously we knew this day was going to happen when an athlete came out of the closet," he said.

"It takes a lot of courage by him and, hopefully, it leads to more people being able to be comfortable with that."

The NHL has taken the lead in advocating for more openness.

Patrick Burke, a Philadelphia Flyers scout and the son of former Leafs general manager Brian Burke, is one of the founders of the You Can Play movement dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports.

"I think the fruits of his work are just starting to come forward and I would expect to hear more and more of that as time moves along," said Leafs general manager Dave Nonis of Burke.

Collins finished the NBA season with the Washington Wizards and is now a free agent but says he wants to keep playing.

Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said he both was and wasn't surprised.

For one thing, he said if estimates are that perhaps 10 per cent of the general population is gay, he sees no reason to suspect that wouldn't hold true in the sports world.

— The Canadian Press

"We view that as another example of the progress that has been made and the evolution that has been taking place in this country," Carney said.

President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage during his re-election campaign last year. Organizing for Action, a grassroots group run by Obama loyalists that grew out of his 2012 re-election campaign, expressed support as well, writing to Collins on Twitter on Monday that the group's supporters "stand with you today."

Collins announced he is gay Monday in a first-person account posted on Sports Illustrated's website. He has played for six teams in 12 seasons, including this past season with the Washington Wizards. He is now a free agent.

First Lady Michelle Obama took to Twitter Monday afternoon to applaud Collins.

"So proud of you, Jason Collins! This is a huge step forward for our country. We've got your back!" the tweet read. It was signed "mo" -- signifying that the first lady personally wrote the message.

'Important moment'

Former President Bill Clinton also voiced encouragement for Collins, releasing a statement that asks fans, NBA colleagues and the media to support and respect him. Clinton said he has known Collins since he attended Stanford University with his daughter Chelsea.

Clinton said Collins's announcement Monday is an "important moment" for professional sports and the history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Collins is "a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek — to be able to be who we are, to do our work, to build families and to contribute to our communities," Clinton said. "For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive."

Chelsea Clinton also tweeted her support for Collins Monday, saying she was proud of her friend for having the strength and courage to be the first openly gay player in the NBA.

Chad Griffin, the president of Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, said 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," Griffin said.

The NBA player also received support from Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., his college roommate. Kennedy tweeted Monday that "I've always been proud to call [Collins] a friend, and I'm even prouder to stand with him today."