Jason Collins made history on Sunday night as the first openly gay athlete in North America’s four major professional sports.
Collins, who has been a free agent since 2013, signed a ten day contract with the Brooklyn Nets and played with the team on Sunday night as they took on the Los Angeles Lakers. According to reports, the Staples Center erupted in applause as the 35-year-old center made his way onto the court.
“Sometimes in life something happens and there’s an opportunity,” he said before the game. “I’m very thankful for this opportunity. That’s why I work so hard, why I train the way I do so that when I do have an opportunity physically I’m not worried about my conditioning or cardio or anything along those lines.”
A number of fans supported Collins on Sunday night, including Michael Sam and Robbie Rogers. Robbie Rogers, a midfielder for the Los Angeles Galaxy, made his Major League Soccer debut in May 2013 just three months coming out and NFL prospect, Michael Sam announced he is gay a few weeks ago.
“Congratulations to my friend @jasoncollins34- excited to see you do work out there #courage #groundbreaking,” Collins wrote.
“Very excited to watch @jasoncollins34 tonight more importantly I am proud to call him my friend,” Rogers posted on Twitter. He later wrote, “For those that think there is no place for gay men & women in sports. Remember… A gay dude invented the high five.”
In April 2013, Collins opened up about his sexuality in an issue of Sports Illustrated. “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
“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,” he explained. “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.”