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White House, Former President Bill Clinton Commend Jason Collins

Clinton: Collins’ Announcement Is An ‘Important Moment’
Jason Collins (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jason Collins (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — The White House is commending NBA veteran Jason Collins for becoming the first active male player in the four major American professional sports to come out as gay.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called that decision courageous and says the White House supports Collins. He says he hopes the 34-year-old center’s NBA colleagues will also offer support.

“We view that as another example of the progress that has been made and the evolution that has been taking place in this country,” Carney said.

President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage during his re-election campaign last year. Organizing for Action, a grassroots group run by Obama loyalists that grew out of his 2012 re-election campaign, expressed support as well, writing to Collins on Twitter on Monday that the group’s supporters “stand with you today.”

On Monday evening, CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett reported that President Obama called Collins. The President reportedly offered his support and congratulations for Collins’ courage to come out.

Collins announced he is gay Monday in a first-person account posted on Sports Illustrated’s website. He has played for six teams in 12 seasons, including this past season with the Washington Wizards. He is now a free agent.

Former President Bill Clinton also voiced encouragement for Collins, asking fans, NBA colleagues and the media to support and respect him in a statement Monday. Clinton said he has known Collins since he attended Stanford University with his daughter Chelsea.

Clinton said Collins’ announcement Monday is an “important moment” for professional sports and the history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Collins is “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,” Clinton said. “For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive.”

Chelsea Clinton also tweeted her support for Collins Monday, saying she was proud of her friend for having the strength and courage to be the first openly gay player in the NBA.

Chad Griffin, the president of Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, said Collins has “forever changed the face of sports.”

“No longer will prejudice and fear force gay athletes to remain silent about a fundamental part of their lives,” Griffin said.

The NBA player also received support from Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., his college roommate.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn also commended Collins at a news conference on Monday.

“This is a great day, this is a really significant day,” Quinn said. “I want to thank Jason for what he’s done. It is not easy to come out of the closet on any day in any profession. What he has done today is going to open a door for all other athletes moving forward.”

The openly gay mayoral hopeful added that what Collins has done might also provide an opportunity for kids to speak to their parents.

“And that little boy, maybe he thinks he’s gay, maybe he knows he’s gay. And maybe he sat all alone with it in his room, upset. Now there’s going to be somebody on TV in a sporting event, something families watch together. What Jason did today isn’t just going to help other athletes, it’s literally going to save lives,” Quinn said.

And as 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reported, at Boxers, a popular gay sports bar at 37 W. 20th St. in Chelsea, fans were applauding Collins for being the first to come out.

“I think he’s like, the new civil rights hero,” said one fan, Johnny. “He’s the new Jackie Robinson, and I think we’re really ready for a figure like him.”

As to whether it will change attitudes in sports, Kevin from Queens said he hopes so.

“It certainly won’t hurt; I think it will help,” Kevin said. “It will take a little courage as well. I admire him.”

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)