Martina Navratilova: Jason Collins’ Coming Out ‘Will Save Lives’

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, who helped pave the way for Jason Collins' coming out with her own years ago, praised Jason Collins in a Sports Illustrated column today.

NavratilovaShe says, humbly, that although she had less support and lost endorsements it was easier in a way:

When I came out, in 1981, I didn't have much public support and I know I lost endorsements. But I never had to worry about losing my job. In tennis, there are no bosses, no general managers and no coaches who can keep players from competing. So I was safe in that regard. For team sports athletes, this is not the case. A homophobic coach at any level — high school, college or pros — could keep a player from playing.

And she makes note of what it will mean for gay kids:

Now that Jason Collins has come out, he is the proverbial "game-changer." One of the last bastions of homophobia has been challenged. How many LGBT kids, once closeted, are now more likely to pursue a team sport and won't be scared away by a straight culture?

Collins has led the way to freedom. Yes, freedom — because that closet is completely and utterly suffocating. It's only when you come out that you can breathe properly. It's only when you come out that you can be exactly who you are. Collins' action will save lives. This is no exaggeration: Fully one third of suicides among teenagers occur because of their sexuality. Collins will truly affect lives, too. Millions of kids will see that it is OK to be gay. No need for shame, no need for embarrassment, no need for hiding.

Navratilova hopes that Collins actions create "an avalanche" of similar revelations.

In related news, Billie Jean King tweeted today:

I am thrilled @JasonCollins34 was able to come out on his own terms and, as he put it, is ready to continue the conversation. This is a day of celebration for the LGBT community and for all of us. I look forward to the day when the news of anyone coming out, is a non-issue and once we reach that point we will know we have arrived.