Obama "couldn't be prouder" of NBA's Collins for coming out

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President Barack Obama says he told NBA center Jason Collins that he "couldn't be prouder of him" for coming out as gay while playing in a major sports league.

The president was turning to leave at the end of a press conference Tuesday when a reporter asked him what he thought about Collins' announcement. The president came back to the podium to take the question.

Obama says he spoke to Collins on Monday and "he seems like a terrific young man."

"I told him I couldn't be prouder. One of the extraordinary measures of progress that we've seen in this country has been the recognition that the LGBT community deserves full equality, not just partial equality. Not just tolerance but a recognition that they're fully a part of the American family. Given the important of sports in our society for an individual who's excelled at the highest levels in one of the major sports saying 'this is who I am, I'm proud of it, I'm still a great competitor. I'm still seven foot tall and can bang with Shaq and deliver a hard foul,'" he said.

The president said Collins was an excellent role model for young people in similar situations.

"For a lot of young people out there who are gay or lesbian who are struggling with these issues to see a role model like that who's unafraid, it's a great thing. I think America should be proud that this is just one more step in this ongoing recognition that we treat everybody fairly. Everybody's part of the family and we judge people on the basis of their character and their performance and not their sexual orientation," said Obama.

Collins has played for six teams in 12 seasons, including this past season with the Washington Wizards, and is now a free agent.

He made his groundbreaking pronouncement in an online article Monday, and Obama called him to express support.

Meantime, ESPN says it regrets that one of its reporters described Jason Collins as a sinner.

Chris Broussard, who covers the NBA, said on the air Monday that Collins was "walking in open rebellion to God" by living as a gay man.

In the article in Sports Illustrated, Collins became the first male athlete in one of the country's four major sports to come out as gay.

ESPN's Josh Krulewitz said the network regrets that a discussion of personal viewpoints became a distraction. He said the network was "fully committed to diversity" and welcomed Collins' announcement.

Broussard on Tuesday praised Collins' bravery and said he had no objection to him playing in the NBA.