(RNN) - Free agent and Washington Wizards center, Jason Collins, has come out as the first active openly gay athlete in one of the big-four American team sports.
In an interview he told Sports Illustrated, "I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, 'I'm different.' If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand.
Although Collins is the first male professional athlete to come out as gay while playing professionally, other athletes have come out after they retired, and very few in the big four sports - football, basketball, baseball and hockey.
Notable gay athletes include Olympic diver Greg Louganis, and tennis stars Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova.
"When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way," Collins said to Sports Illustrated. "I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue."
Collins also wrote in the Sports Illustrated article he was partly inspired to come out by the Boston Marathon shootings to come out now.
"The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn't wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?"
He added that "it takes and enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret."
The 34-year-old has played in the NBA since 2001.
Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld released a statement on behalf of the team:
"We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career. Those qualities will continue to serve him both as a player and as a positive role model for others of all sexual orientation."
President Clinton also released a statement:
I have known Jason Collins since he was Chelsea's classmate and friend at Stanford. Jason's announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community. It is also the straightforward statement of 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. For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive. I hope that everyone, particularly Jason's colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned.
Last year, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and made national headlines in support of gay marriage.
As a sign that attitudes are changing about gay athletes, Nike signed college basketball standout Brittney Griner to an endorsement deal.
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