Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran who spent the first half of this season with the Celtics, changed the sporting culture with one sentence and one admission to Sports Illustrated yesterday: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”

With those words, Collins became the first known openly gay male athlete to come out of the closet in one of the four major American team sports while still an active player.

His announcement was widely seen as a major, positive step for those working toward equal rights in and out of the sporting world.

“My immediate reaction was smiles and cheers and just thankful that he was comfortable enough with where he was at as a person to make this announcement,” said Wade Davis, a former NFL player with the Tennessee Titans who publicly announced that he was gay almost a year ago, nearly a decade after his playing career ended. “For Jason to do this, it hasn’t been done before. It’s groundbreaking on every level. There will be young kids who feel this kind of courage, too. This is amazing.”

Collins has played for six teams during his NBA career and is a free agent after spending the final few months of the season with the Washington Wizards after the Celtics traded him and Leandro Barbosa for Jordan Crawford in February. Collins, who stated he would like to continue his playing career, will be looking for a home next season.

“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport,” Collins 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.”