Jason Collins, a center in the NBA, is officially the first openly gay male professional athlete to come out in a major sport.

Collins, a 34-year-old free agent who played with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards last season, came out in an editorial for Sports Illustrated that will appear in its May 6 issue. "I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport," he told the magazine. "But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, "I'm different." If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand."

"My journey of self-discovery and self-acknowledgement began in my hometown of Los Angeles and has taken me through two state high school championships, the NCAA Final Four and the Elite Eight, and nine playoffs in 12 NBA seasons," he continued. "I've played for six pro teams and have appeared in two NBA Finals. Ever heard of a parlor game called Three Degrees of Jason Collins? If you're in the league, and I haven't been your teammate, I surely have been one of your teammates's teammates. Or one of your teammate's teammate's teammates."

Collins reveals that he first considered coming out of the closet during the NBA lockout, when he was forced out of his ordinary routine. It was around this time that the ball player, who'd dated women throughout his life, truly came to terms with his sexuality and started to come out to people close to him. He credits the Boston Marathon bombings with providing him with the sense of urgency to come out of the closet publicly as a gay man. He has plans to walk in the 2013 Gay Pride Parade in Boston alongside his friend and straight ally to the gay community, Joe Kennedy.

"It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret," he wrote in his SI editorial. "I've endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back."

NBA commissioner David Stern had nothing but kind words of encouragement for Collins' openness. "Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue," he said in a statement.

In recent months, there has been a lot of discussion about the future of gay male athletes in the country's most high-profiled sports. Much of the debate was sparked when former Notre Dame Linebacker and future San Diego Charger, Manti Te'o, was rumored to be gay. While San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver denounced the idea of gay men in the locker rooms, allies of the LGBT community like Brendon Ayanbadejo spoke out in support of welcoming gay men to be open in the sport.

Brittney Griner, the former Baylor women's basketball player who's headed to the WNBA, created little more than a ripple in the news cycle when she recently came out as a lesbian.

Get Uinterview's FREE iPhone App For Daily News Updates here.

Get the FREE Uinterview iPad app here and watch our videos anywhere.

Read more about: