If you look up the word "progress" in the dictionary, there should be a full-page photo of NBA center Jason Collins. Being the "first" to do something on a national scale is a feat of its own, but when you challenge the views of sports fans, politicians, and citizens everywhere, it becomes a little more personal.
Collins became the first openly gay professional male athlete in a major sport on Monday as he wrote a tell-all piece for Sports Illustrated discussing his upbringing, his courageous decision to come out, and most of all what his coming out means for professional sports.
"I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport," he wrote. "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."
From a young age, Collins knew he was gay. When he came out to his aunt — who replied, "I've known you were gay for years" — it inspired him to try to embrace his sexuality despite the world's polarizing views on LGBT rights.
But even as he got older, the 12-year NBA veteran still felt he needed to live up to the country's expectations of men, and especially professional athletes. He dated women, and was even engaged to one.
"I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue," wrote Collins.
The professional sports world didn't make his decision to come out easy, though. Between NFL player Chris Culliver's recent statement that he would not welcome gay players into the NFL and the media's incessant obsession with NFL draftee Manti Te'o's sexuality, he had to have known what kind of reactions he would receive from anti-LGBT rights sports fans.
Interestingly, he first planned to come out in 2011. But the NBA lockout marred his plans — he didn't want to make an already chaotic situation more so with such a monumental announcement.
However, Collins' decision to come out was solidified by two major events. His college roommate and current Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy told him about his great time marching in the Boston Gay Pride Parade in 2012. While Collins was proud of his straight friend for supporting gay rights, he still felt that even attending the parade and cheering on his friend would raise speculation about his sexuality.
In the end, it was the Boston Marathon tragedy that spurred him to action.
"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. "Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?"
A few weeks ago, he told Kennedy he was gay. The congressman responded with an invitation to march with him in the 2013 Boston Gay Pride Parade, which Collins accepted. The two will march together on June 8.
Despite the expected backlash from Internet commenters and pundits alike, Collins is at peace with his decision, saying that he feels stronger and better about himself with each person he tells. He no longer "lives a lie," as he puts it — he doesn't have to pretend to be someone else anymore.
"When I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time," he wrote. "I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back."
In this day and age, it is unlikely this will affect NBA game attendance or the country's view of the NBA as a whole. The usual bigots will make themselves heard, but the overwhelming message will remain clear: We are unbelievably proud of Jason Collins, and we will support him as much as ever as he continues to play the sport he loves.