(CNN) — It’s the biggest move of his career and it’s off the court.
Jason Collins, who played with the NBA’s Washington Wizards this season, has disclosed that he is gay, making him the first active openly homosexual athlete in the four major American pro team sports.
Collins, who is now a free agent, made the disclosure in a column appearing in the upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated.
A center, Collins played with six NBA teams over the past 12 seasons and attended Stanford University.
NBA Commissioner David Stern said Collins is widely respected.
“We are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue,” he said in a statement.
Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Stanford alumna, wrote on Twitter that she is “very proud of my friend Jason Collins for having the strength & courage to be the first openly gay player in the NBA.”
Bill Clinton called the announcement an “important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community.”
Collins, who played for the Boston Celtics this season before being traded, wrote in his essay that U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, helped prompt his decision to come out as gay. Kennedy and Collins were roommates at Stanford. He recounts hearing about Kennedy — who is not gay — marching in Boston’s Gay Pride Parade.
“For as long as I’ve known Jason Collins he has been defined by three things: his passion for the sport he loves, his unwavering integrity, and the biggest heart you will ever find,” Kennedy said. “I’m proud to stand with him today and proud to call him a friend.”
A few athletes have come out as gay after they’ve left professional sports. One is John Ameachi, a former NBA player.
Amaechi told CNN he hopes Collins will be a catalyst for a wider acceptance of openly gay athletes, saying he believes Collins is better equipped than anyone who came before him to handle the attention that will come his way. But it may take more, Amaechi said.
“I know people like to believe one iconic (figure can change things),
People like to believe one iconic figure can change things, Amaechi said, “but the reality is that when there’s this tipping point, or enough people coming together deciding that change is necessary, that’s when change happens.”
In 2005, Sheryl Swoopes — a top player in the WNBA, the women’s pro league — announced she was gay.
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