(Reuters) - NBA player Jason Collins, who became the first gay man to come out while playing in one of America’s major professional leagues, said he has been startled by the positive reaction.
“Its incredible, you just try to live an honest genuine life and the next thing you know, you’ve got the president calling you,” he told ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday.
Collins said President Barack Obama had been encouraging in the telephone conversation.
“He was incredibly supportive and said he was proud of me and said this not only affected my life but others going forward,” he said.
Asked about the scale of reaction to his decision to come out, Collins said: “That’s kind of mind-boggling... I never set out to be the first,” he 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,’” he added.
The 34-year-old center revealed his sexuality in an article published by Sports Illustrated on Monday and said he was glad that he was now ‘out’.
“I know that I, right now, am the happiest that I’ve ever been in my life,” he said.
“A huge weight has been lifted. I’ve already been out to my family and my friends, but just to, you know, sort of rip the Band-Aid off and come out on my own terms.”
Collins is currently a free agent after spending last season with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards but said he expects future team-mates to welcome him.
“From my team-mates I am expecting support because that is what I would do for my team-mates, team is like a family and the NBA is like a brotherhood and I am looking it at that we will all support each other on and off the court,” he said.
Asked about what advice he would give to a young gay man hoping to make it in the NBA, Collins said he should focus on the game.
“It doesn’t matter that you are gay but the key thing is - its about basketball. Its about working hard, its about sacrificing for your team,” he said.
Collins could well be the first of several gay players in top sports to come out but he said everyone’s decision on how open to be was based on their own circumstances.
“I hope that every player makes a decision that leads to their own happiness. I know that I, right now am the happiest I have been in my life,” he said.
Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Justin Palmer