WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — NBA player Jason Collins was previously engaged to a woman who he dated for eight years before breaking it off in 2009.
Former WNBA player Carolyn Moos tells TMZ that she had no idea Collins was gay during their relationship and was shocked when he came out of the closet.
“It’s very emotional for me as a woman to have invested eight years in my dream to have a husband, soul mate, and best friend in him,” Moos tells TMZ. “So this is all hard to understand.”
Collins wrote in a first-person story published in Sports Illustrated Monday his struggle as a closeted gay player in the NBA. Moos says Collins revealed to her he was gay last weekend and that was the reason he broke off the engagement.
“I care about [Jason] tremendously and only want the best for him,” Moos told TMZ. “I want Jason to be happy for a lifetime and stay true to who he really is, inside and out.”
Collins says the Boston Marathon bombings “reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?”
So after having, he explains, “endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie,” Collins became the first active player in one of the four major U.S. pro sports leagues to come out as gay. He wrote a first-person article posted Monday on Sports Illustrated’s website that begins: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
Most recently a little-used reserve center for the Washington Wizards after a midseason trade from the Boston Celtics, the 7-foot Collins is a free agent who can sign with any team. He wants to keep playing in the NBA.
In an interview taped Monday and aired Tuesday morning, Collins told ABC’s “Good Morning America”: “I think the country is ready for supporting an openly gay basketball player.”
His announcement Monday, nearly two weeks after the Wizards’ season ended, immediately drew praise and backing not only from pals, current and former teammates and coaches, the NBA itself, and a sponsor, but also from the White House. President Barack Obama called him — “he was incredibly supportive and he was proud of me,” Collins told ABC — along with former President Bill Clinton, and athletes in various other sports.
“I certainly appreciate it, as a gay person. Any time you can have someone this high-profile come out, it’s just so helpful, particularly to young people. We’ve reached a tipping point,” said Billie Jean King, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame who won 12 Grand Slam singles titles.
“We’ve got to get rid of the shame. That’s the main thing,” King said in a telephone interview. “And Jason’s going to help that. He’s going to help give people courage to come out.”
In texts to the AP, Wizards guard Garrett Temple wrote, “I was surprised. I didn’t know and I was right next to him in the locker room. It definitely took a lot of courage for him to come out. He was a great teammate,” and rookie Bradley Beal wrote: “I didn’t know about it! I don’t think anyone did! I am proud of his decision to come out and express the way he feels and I’m supportive of that!!”
Collins’ coach with the Celtics, Doc Rivers, drew a comparison between Monday’s announcement and Jackie Robinson’s role when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
“I am extremely happy and proud of Jason Collins. He’s a pro’s pro. He is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite ‘team’ players I have ever coached,” Rivers said. “If you have learned anything from Jackie Robinson, it is that teammates are always the first to accept. It will be society who has to learn tolerance.”
Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant tweeted that he was proud of Collins, writing: “Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others,” followed by the words “courage” and “support.”
Asked if he hoped other athletes will follow his example, Collins told ABC: “I hope that every player makes a decision that leads to their own happiness, whatever happiness that is in life. I know that I, right now, am the happiest that I’ve ever been in my life.”
Collins said in the TV interview that he does not know of any other gay NBA players.
(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.)