Jason Collins may have shocked the sports world Monday by becoming the first active player in one of four major U.S. professional sports to come out as gay, but he did not shock U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III.
The NBA veteran shared his decision to come out with the Massachusetts Democrat in a private phone conversation earlier this month. That's when Collins told Kennedy, his college roommate at Stanford University more than a decade ago, that Kennedy helped inspire his decision to make history.
Collins writes in a first-person article posted Monday on Sports Illustrated's website that he realized he needed to go public when Kennedy walked in Boston's gay pride parade last year — and Collins decided he couldn't join him.
But Kennedy downplayed his influence in an interview with The Associated Press late Monday: "Jason didn't need any help with this."
"I didn't doubt for a second knowing he was gay that he would be the one to do it," Kennedy said of Collins' announcement. "I've never known him to look for publicity, or to look for the spotlight, but given that no one else would raise their hand, I knew he would do it."
As a senior at Stanford, Collins was a college roommate for about six months with then-sophomore Kennedy, who is now a freshman congressman. The pair maintained a friendship after Collins entered the NBA and Kennedy entered politics.
Collins called Kennedy after he signed with the Celtics last year. And when Collins was recently traded to the Washington Wizards, he joked that he was following Kennedy to Washington.
"I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. 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,'" Collins writes. "If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand."
Kennedy said that Collins has agreed to march with him on June 8 in Boston's 2013 gay pride parade.
"As historic as it was," Kennedy said, "he's still Jason. He's still the guy I've called a friend for 10 years."
Added Kennedy: "I'm so proud of him. And I'm so proud to call him a friend."