President Barack Obama says he told NBA center Jason Collins that he "couldn't be prouder of him" for coming out as gay while playing in a major sports league.
Jason Collins said he has gotten "incredible" support since coming out as the first openly gay player in one of the four major U.S. pro sports leagues.
Collins sat down for an interview that was aired by ABC's "Good Morning America" early Tuesday, one day after the veteran NBA center revealed his sexuality in a first-person story posted on Sports Illustrated's website.
"I think, I know, in my personal life, I'm ready and I think the country is ready for supporting an openly gay basketball player," Collins told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.
Collins said he went through something akin to a 12-step program while deciding to come out, dealing with emotions such as anger and denial.
"But when you finally get to that point of acceptance, there's nothing more beautiful than just allowing yourself to really be happy and be comfortable in your own skin," Collins said.
Dozens of NBA players sent messages to Collins after the story was posted Monday, many doing so through social media. The support didn't stop there, with President Barack Obama also calling to offer his support.
Obama said Tuesday that he "couldn't be prouder" of Collins for coming out.
Speaking at a news conference, Obama said Collins showed the progress the United States has made in recognizing that gays and lesbians deserve full equality. He said they deserve "not just tolerance but recognition that they're fully a part of the American family."
"It's incredible. Just try to live an honest, genuine life and the next thing you know you have the president calling you," Collins said. "He was incredibly supportive and he was proud of me, said this not only affected my life but others going forward."
Collins said he does not know of any other gay NBA players. He also told ABC that he was overwhelmed by the reaction of tennis legend Martina Navratilova, who came out in 1981 and called him a pioneer after he went public with his story.
"I look at her as one of my heroes, the dignity and class that she's lived her life and all that she's achieved in her career," Collins said. "She is my role model. Hopefully going forward I can be someone else's role model."
Navratilova appeared on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday, and said she thought Collins' impact "is immediate because we’re talking about it.’’
“For Jason, I think it’s going to make a big difference in his life. I think it already has, but most of all, he will sleep better at night," she said.
Navratilova added that even though it has been 32 years since she came out, it's "better late than never."
"There is some kid out there who is not going to commit suicide because Jason is out,” she said on "Today."
Collins offered a simple piece of advice when asked by Stephanopoulos what his story could mean to children who play basketball and are worried about their futures because they are gay.
"It doesn't matter that you're gay. The key thing is that it's about basketball," Collins said. "It's about working hard, it's about sacrificing for your team. It's all about dedication. That's what you should focus on."