Coming out

Jason Collins with ABC's George Stephanopoulos.
Jason Collins with ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

National Basketball Association veteran Jason Collins is the first active player in America’s four major professional sports leagues to come out as gay. It’s not a milestone; other professional athletes have come out, though practically all of them were retired.

Still, Mr. Collins’ statement this week is another development, similar to last year’s coming out by rhythm and blues singer Frank Ocean, in the seismic shift in public attitudes on gay rights over the past three decades.

Major professional sports always have had gay players. It was only a matter of time before one of them publicly acknowledged it while he was still playing.

More significant was the reaction of fellow players, fans, and the public. Most of them applauded Mr. Collins, whose first-person account was published this week by Sports Illustrated.

NBA stars Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade, and Kobe Bryant tweeted their support. Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers compared him to Jackie Robinson.

Mr. Collins, 34, will become a free agent this summer. His waning career not only will survive this disclosure, but also probably will profit from it.

The NBA still has a way to go. In a recent interview, retired coach Phil Jackson said he had never run into a gay professional basketball player throughout his career. Yeah, right.

Mr. Jackson’s gaffe was more ignorant than hateful. But the overwhelming support shown Mr. Collins underscores how much attitudes have changed.

Reactions from fans, players, and the public would have been far different 30, 20, or even 10 years ago, when homophobia still dominated men’s sports. Mr. Ocean received the same level of support from the hip-hop community and his fans when he came out.

Unfortunately, institutions and laws change far more slowly than public attitudes. Laws in 29 states, including Ohio, still permit employers to fire workers just because they’re gay. A 59-year-old physical education teacher at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus recently was fired because she’s a lesbian.

As society’s attitudes move toward full acceptance of gay and lesbian people, it’s time for institutions and politicians to catch up and grant them full equality under the law.