Bill Clinton applauded his courage, Martina Navratilova called him a pioneer and Doc Rivers compared him to Jackie Robinson.
The NBA’s Jason Collins said he was gay Monday, becoming the first athlete to come out while actively playing in one of the four U.S. major pro sports leagues.
And publicly, the reaction from the sports world was overwhelmingly positive.
Dozens of NBA players, coaches and executives chimed in to support to Collins, as did players from across the sports landscape.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash summed up the sentiments of many of his fellow athletes when he simply wrote on Twitter, “The time has come.”
Support freely flowed Collins’ way, mainly through social media, with players from all four major sports reaching out to offer congratulations, support or both. Even the entertainment world reacted, with actor Neil Patrick Harris, who came out in 2006, thanking Collins.
“Thanks for stepping up. For standing tall. And at 7 feet, that’s saying a lot,” Harris wrote.
Collins will be a free agent this summer. However, after averaging a mere 1.1 points in 38 games for the Celtics and Washington Wizards this season — and after scoring 10 points just one time since Jan. 2, 2008 — it remains to be seen what sort of interest the 34-year-old center will generate from clubs.
“He exemplifies everything we look for in players,” said Billy King, the general manager of the Nets franchise that Collins spent his first 6½ seasons with when the team was in New Jersey.
In Miami, guard Dwyane Wade tweeted that he respects Collins for “living in his truth,” and forward Shane Battier said that he only judges teammates by their commitment to winning.
“Whether he is straight, gay, black, white, from Earth, or from Mars is immaterial. Just help us win,” Battier said.
Collins finished this season with the Wizards, spending months traveling, practicing, playing, dressing and hanging out with the same group of men, day after day after day.
They had no idea he was gay.
“No, I didn’t know about it! I don’t think anyone did!” Wizards guard Bradley Beal wrote in a text message. “I am proud of his decision to come out and express the way he feels and I’m supportive of that!! I never judge anyone, that’s his decision and his life to live! I always saw him as a great teammate, mentor, leader, huge asset to our team and just a vet to me! So all in all I respect what he has done.”
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis talked with Collins on Monday, saying that he told him, “We are proud of you, and I support you in every way possible.”
Predictably, Collins’ message was not unanimously well received.
Thousands of tweets about Collins included a gay slur. In New York, well-known sports radio host Mike Francesa called the story “a dramatic attempt to sell a magazine.”
“I think it is a monumental day,” said San Jose Sharks forward Tommy Wingels, who is active in the ‘You Can Play’ movement that is dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports. “It’s very encouraging for the LGBT community and more importantly sports in general. This is a day that’s been coming for a while.”
Many other athletes agreed.
“Gay people are part of our society,” Milwaukee Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said. “We live with them, they’re our friends, they’re our co-workers, and now they’re our teammates. It was going to happen some day or another, it just happened to be today.”
U.S. women’s soccer star Abby Wambach said: “I think there is nothing more inspiring than to see somebody stand up, regardless of their environment, and be who they are.”
Detroit Tigers reliever Phil Coke said: “He’s going onto that stage alone, and he’s taking on representing himself and his entire community. Not only that, but at this point, he’s representing every major sport in America. That takes a great deal of intestinal fortitude. I have the utmost respect for him.”
And this came from Toronto Raptors forward Rudy Gay: “Happy for my former teammate Jason Colllins. A true American. ‘home of the free because of the brave.’”