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NBA Center Jason Collins sets the stage, and a wonderful example, for gay athletes

Apr 29, 2013, 2:11 PM EDT

Jason Collins

It’s not a baseball story, but some sports stories are so significant that we’d be remiss in not noting them. This is one of them: veteran NBA center Jason Collins has come out as gay in a wonderful, eloquent and uplifting Sports Illustrated column. You owe it to yourself to read his words on the matter.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has issued a statement of support, as have multiple NBA coaches and players from Doc Rivers to Kobe Bryant on down. There have already been and will be comments from bigots, homophobes and simple, pathetic provocateurs as well. They’ll be discredited, mocked and ultimately pitied in pretty short and overwhelming order if they haven’t already have been. We’re in a very different world now than even a decade ago, thankfully.

Those folks aside, I’m particularly struck by Stern’s use of the world “family” in his statement. While we all know that sports are a business and a quite often ruthless meritocracy, when it comes to the off-the-field and off-the-court human interactions, it makes eminent sense that people within sports, who know what one another are up against all the time in ways that none of us on the outside ever could, treat one another with the decency of a good, loving and strong family.

Today this is a basketball story. In the coming years this story will inevitably play its way out through football, hockey, soccer and baseball as well. When it does, Collins will be the touchstone, and his brave example and honest words will the ones that set the stage for and provide comfort and guidance to other gay athletes seeking to live their lives and play their sports outside of the closet.

Congratulations to Jason Collins for his bravery, his example, his humor and his class.

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