The NBA’s Jason Collins says it’s “mind-boggling” to be the first openly gay male athlete currently playing in a major American team sport, but he says he never intended to be a trailblazer.
“That’s kind of mind-boggling. I think I talk about that. That, you know, I never set out to be the first,” the Washington Wizards center, 34, told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview.
Collins — who chose his jersey number 98 in honor of Matthew Shepard, the victim of a gay hate crime in 1998 — said he hopes other gay athletes will “raise their hand” and follow his lead.
“You’re sort of waiting around for somebody else to … raise their hand,” Collins –who stands an imposing 7 feet tall and weighs 255 lbs — said.
“I’m ready to raise my hand but, you know, you still look around like, ‘OK, come on, guys.’ It’s time for someone else in the room to raise their hand and say, ‘You know what? Yeah, so big deal. I can still play basketball. I can still help the team win, and that’s what’s most important.’”
Collins came out in an article published on Sports Illustrated‘s website Monday.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” Collins wrote in the article, which officially hits newsstands on May 6.
Collins has played for six teams over the course of 12 years and has gone to the playoffs nine times. He’ll become a free agent in July, and he says he wants to keep playing in the NBA.
Reaction to his announcement has generally been positive — in and outside of the sports world. He even received a call of support from President Obama, and the First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted, “We’ve got your back.”