Jason Collins

Jason Collins has become the first male athlete to come out while being active in a major professional sport, writing in this week's Sports Illustrated, " I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."

Collins, who played for the Washington Wizards for the 2012-13 season and is now a free agent, said it's a distinction he reluctantly embraces, but one he views as necessary.

"I'm happy to start the conversation," he writes in SI. "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."

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The 7-foot-tall center says he's already come out to his family and friends, including his twin brother Jarron, also an NBA player. But recent events, including the Boston Marathon bombings and the Supreme Court hearings about gay marriage, spurred him to go public.

"Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?" he writes. "The strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable in March ... Less then three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future."

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Still, Collins said he waited until the season was over because he "didn't want to answer questions and draw attention to myself."

Collins admits that he has "no idea" how his teammates, other NBA players and fans will react to his announcement. "I hope for the best, but plan for the worst," he writes. " I hope fans will respect me for raising my hand. ... If I'm up against an intolerant player, I'll set a pretty hard pick on him. And then move on."

Read Collins' full essay here. What do you think of his decision to come out?