Bill Clinton Praises Jason Collins on Athlete's Coming Out
Two members of the Clinton family are praising NBA center Jason Collins for becoming the first male athlete active in a major professional sport to come out as gay.
Former President Bill Clinton noted that his daughter Chelsea went to Stanford with Collins and is a friend of his. He called Collins' announcement "an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community."
"It is also the straightforward statement of 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 wrote in a statement. "For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive. I hope that everyone, particularly Jason's colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned."
Collins, 34, last played with the Washington Wizards during the 2012-13 season. He came out Monday on the cover of Sports Illustrated, telling them "I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation."
Chelsea Clinton tweeted praise of her friend as well writing, "Very proud of my friend Jason Collins for having the strength & courage to be the first openly gay player in the NBA" and linked to the Sports Illustrated cover.
Hillary Clinton hasn't weighed in yet, but she publicly announced her support of same-sex marriage last month in a video released by the Human Rights Campaign. In the six-minute video, Clinton spoke directly to the camera, explaining why she supports the legalization of gay marriage.
"LGBT Americans are our colleagues, our teachers, our soldiers, our friends, our loved ones," Clinton said. "They are full and equal citizens and deserve the rights of citizenship. That includes marriage."
Bill Clinton and Chelsea endorsed gay marriage in recent years and in 2011 as Secretary of State, Clinton gave a ground breaking speech in Geneva declaring that lesbian and gay rights are human rights. She made it clear that the United States would be critical of countries who criminalize homosexuality.
Although he now openly embraces same-sex marriage and his daughter has openly spoke about how she helped convince her father to evolve on the issue, the former president has somewhat of a tortured history on the topic. In 1996, he signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law, it is a federal law that restricts federal marriage benefits to marriages between a man and a woman. Last month in an op-ed in the Washington Post he denounced the legislation and said it was time for it to be overturned. The Supreme Court is currently weighing the constitutionality of DOMA. Last month, they heard arguments in the case.
In the op-ed Clinton wrote the "the justices must decide whether it is consistent with the principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all, and is therefore constitutional."
"As the president who signed the act into law, I have come to believe that DOMA is contrary to those principles and, in fact, incompatible with our Constitution," Clinton wrote. "When I signed the bill, I included a statement with the admonition that 'enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination.' Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory. It should be overturned."
In 1993, Clinton also signed the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy into law which mandates the discharge of openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual service members. For decades before, being gay was reason for discharge and service members were forced out if their sexual identities were exposed. Clinton signed DADT as a compromise, hoping to help end the ban, but thousands of troops have been discharged under the policy. It was repealed by President Obama in 2010. Clinton too denounced the policy in recent years.
The Clintons are not Collins' only political friends in Washington. Freshman Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., was Collins' roommate at Stanford.
"For as long as I've known Jason Collins he has been defined by three things: his passion for the sport he loves, his unwavering integrity, and the biggest heart you will ever find," Kennedy said in a statement. "Without question or hesitation, he gives everything he's got to those of us lucky enough to be in his life. I'm proud to stand with him today and proud to call him a friend."
In the Sports Illustrated article, Collins wrote that Kennedy helped him make the decision to come out publicly saying he realized he needed to do it when Kennedy told him he had marched in Boston's 2012 Gay Pride Parade.
"I'm seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy," Collins writes in Sports Illustrated. "I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn't even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator."
In the article, Sports Illustrated reports Collins gave Bill Clinton as well as Condoleezza Rice a "heads up" the story would be published today.
Update: Collins has gotten support all day from politicians. Here's what First Lady Michelle Obama said from her Twitter feed:
So proud of you, Jason Collins! This is a huge step forward for our country. We've got your back! -mo
— FLOTUS (@FLOTUS) April 29, 2013
ABC News' John Parkinson and Dana Hughes contributed to this report.