SC equal rights group hopes Collins' move leads to progress

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) -- A South Carolina equal rights group hopes NBA veteran center Jason Collins' decision to come out as gay while still an active player will help create an environment of acceptance.

SC Equality, a group working to secure equal civil and human rights for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender South Carolinians and their families, commends Collins for becoming the first active male professional athlete in the major four American sports leagues to come out as gay.

"While his sexual orientation has no impact on his performance as a center for the Washington Wizards, his words reflect the growing tolerance for an openly gay player in major sports and secures Jason Collins a place in history as a role model for young people who often look up to professional athletes for inspiration," said Ryan Wilson, Executive Director of SC Equality.

Collins wrote a first-person account posted Monday on Sports Illustrated's website.

"If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand," writes Collins.

The 34-year-old Collins has played for six NBA teams in 12 seasons. He finished this past season with the Washington Wizards and is now a free agent. He says he wants to continue playing.

The White House is also applauding Collins for coming out as gay.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called the decision courageous and says the White House supports Collins. He says he hopes the center's team will also offer support.

Carney says the White House views Collins' decision as another example of progress and evolution in the U.S. as Americans grow more accepting of gay rights and same-sex marriage. Last year, during his re-election campaign, President Obama announced his support for gay marriage.

Collins played in a Final Four for Stanford and has reached two NBA Finals. His twin brother, Jarron, was also a longtime NBA center. Jason says he came out to his brother last summer.

SC Equality hopes Collins' step to come out publicly will lead more people to come forward.

"Jason Collins can now help to speak out against homophobia in team sports and give voice to other athletes not yet comfortable with coming out to their teams or as Jason says 'Pro basketball is a family, '" said Wilson.