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What Does Jason Collins Coming Out Mean for Youth Sports?

Washington Wizards center Jason Collins warms up before a game against the New Orleans Hornets last month in Washington. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, came out as gay on Monday, becoming the first active athlete in a major American professional sport to do so.

It's almost certain to have ripple effects past professional sports and into the realm of youth athletics.

Collins' announcement was almost universally lauded, as evidenced by this Sports Illustrated Storify of reactions from athletes, politicians, and others.

President Barack Obama personally called Collins on Monday evening and said, "What you did today was brave," according to Sports Illustrated. "It didn't just affect me," Obama told Collins, "It affected so many other people in this country."

In a press conference Tuesday morning, the president further addressed Collins' decision to out himself as gay, POLITICO reported.

"Given the importance of sports in our society, for an individual who has excelled at the highest levels in one of the major sports to go ahead and say, 'This is who I am, I'm proud of it, I'm still a great competitor, I'm still 7-foot-tall and can bang with Shaq, and you know, deliver a hard foul,' and, you know for I think a lot of young people out there who are you know gay or lesbian who are struggling with these issues to see a role model like that who's unafraid, I think it's a great thing."

That last portion of Obama's quote, about young LGBT athletes now having a role model to look up to, was echoed on the SBNation blog Outsports.

"Thanks to Collins, the young ones in Pee-Wee football today won't know a world without an openly gay male pro athlete. The teens in youth basketball, just starting to understand their own sexuality, will forever have someone to look up to, someone who looks like them. The young gay men playing college baseball today got a shot in the arm: They now know the sports world is ready for them."

On Tuesday morning, a 24-year-old sportswriter inspired by Collins decided to come out via an article on Outsports. There's no telling how many youths this week will do the same.

Full disclosure: Some of my closest friends in college were gay, and many wrestled with the same question of when was the "right" time to come out. I've seen firsthand how much that decision can weigh on someone's overall well-being and how much more free they feel once they admit their deep, not-so-dark secret to the world.

Or, as openly gay ESPN.com NBA writer Kevin Arnovitz says:

"That's all this conversation about openly gay athletes has ever been about it, our collective willingness to afford them the dignity of self-expression. A human being simply can't live in fear of his or her own identity. Anyone who has could tell you how torturous it is. Jason Collins understood that, and that realization fueled his decision to come out as an openly gay man on Monday."

Breitbart writer Ben Shapiro mocked those who described Collins as a hero for coming out publicly. But if Collins' decision to come out helps even one youth LGBT athlete stop living in fear of his or her own identity (in the words of Arnovitz), for many it's difficult to comprehend how that isn't a heroic act.

Photo: Washington Wizards center Jason Collins warms up before a game against the New Orleans Hornets last month in Washington. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

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