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Why NBA player Jason Collins coming out as gay matters (and why we wish it didn't)

Boston Celtics centre Jason Collins, grabs a rebound away from Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver in the first half of their NBA basketball game in Atlanta in this file photo taken Jan. 5, 2013. Collins, a veteran in the National Basketball Association, announced on Monday that he was gay, becoming the first active player from any of the U.S. professional sports leagues to publicly reveal his homosexuality.

TAMI CHAPPELL/Reuters

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

With these three sentences, the Washington Wizards centre Jason Collins became the first openly gay active NBA basketball player. In a deeply personal firsthand account that appears in the latest edition of Sport Illustrated, Collin describes decades of secrecy, breaking the news to his supportive family and explains how the Boston Marathon bombings prompted a decision he'd been contemplating for a while.

"Things change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?"

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Collins is the latest in a growing list of high-profile athletes, as well as politicians and celebrities, to come out publicly. But professional athletes have more typically done so after they've retired.

Collins, who has played in two NBA finals, is a big-name in a sport that has dealt with macho gangsta-rap undertones. It's certainly gotten easier for gay athletes over the last decades – as Collins himself admits, "I'm glad I am coming out in 2013 rather than 2003" – but easier isn't the same as total acceptance. Judging from the positive online reaction, which quickly shut down the trolls (a term to be used here in its strictest sense), Collins' decision only moves things that much farther along.

Ideally, this won't matter some day. But until everyone feels ho-hum about these announcements, it still does. Every second week, for instance, we learn about another teen who's suffered bullying from being perceived as "different."

Same-sex marriage is a still a subject of debate. Referring to the Supreme Court hearings in the United States in March, Collins writes, "less than three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard and I couldn't say anything." Society needs to hear from all the able stereotype-debunkers willing to speak up.

A great line in his essay is his take-that reference to the parlour game the Three Degrees of Jason Collins, which relates to his career with six NBA teams. "Some people insist that they've never met a gay person. … No NBA player can claim that any more." Now, one might say, the ball is in their court.

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About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More

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