Don't suffocate who you are, Kobe supports Collins
Veteran basketball player Jason Collins announced on Monday that he was gay.
He was quickly enveloped in a wave of support from the White House to tennis player Martina Navratilova, a pioneer for gay athletes in sport.
"The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn't wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect," he wrote in Sports Illustrated. "Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?
Kobe Bryant, one of the NBA's greatest players, was fined $100,000 in 2011 for a homophobic slur. On Monday, he was among the first of dozens of active players who took to social media to applaud Collins.
"Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don't suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others," Bryant tweeted.
Image: Washington Wizards'Jason Collins (left)
Photographs: Jim Young/Reuters
Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Steve Nash tweeted: "The time has come. Maximum respect."
There are openly gay players in many top professional leagues in other countries in the world as well as smaller leagues in North America and individual sports.
Image: Los Angeles Lakers Steve Nash (right)
Photographs: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters
'You will sleep a lot better now'
Navratilova, the tennis star who also became a champion for gay rights, said Collins would feel like a burden had been lifted from him.
"Hey Jason Collins-you are now an activist!!! And trust me, you will sleep a lot better now -- freedom is a sweet feeling indeed!," she tweeted.
Other gay athletes, including former NBA center John Amaechi, had waited until their retirement to divulge their sexuality publicly, but there was a growing sense that times were changing.
Image: Martina Navratilova
Photographs: Buda Mendes/Getty Images
'All of us have huge admiration for what Jason is doing'
Earlier this year, the American soccer player Robbie Rogers outed himself, although he had just retired. And Brittney Griner, one of the country's top women's basketball players, said she too was gay.
But there were still no currently playing, openly gay athletes from the four biggest men's leagues.
The question came into sharp focus this year around the National Football League (NFL), usually viewed as the most macho of America's pro sports.
In the days leading up to this year's Super Bowl in New Orleans in February, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver told reporters he would not welcome a gay teammate into the locker room.
He later retracted his comments but reports later emerged of NFL teams asking college players about their sexuality at a scouting session in February.
High-profile NFL players, most notably Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo, began advocating for gay rights, and suggested there were a handful of players ready to come out once someone had taken the first step.
"All of us have huge admiration for what Jason is doing," said Patrick Burke, co-founder of equal rights advocacy group You Can Play.
"Jason's courage in stepping forward with his personal story will provide athletes and fans with a new role model."
Image: Blair Walsh of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates the game tying field goal with holder Chris Kluwe
Photographs: Andy King/Getty Images