It's been only three weeks since Jason Collins came out as the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport, but the impact has been tremendous — as was evident at Monday's GLSEN Respect Awards in Manhattan.
With event co-chairs Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick looking on from the stage — and omg! in the audience — the Washington Wizards player stood before a packed Gotham Hall to accept the Courage Award from the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network and received a minute-long standing ovation.
"As I'm sure you can all imagine, the last couple weeks have been surreal," Collins told the crowd, which consisted of many of the young students GLSEN works to ensure have a safe education. "I go from sitting on my couch next to my German shepherd, Shadow, to sitting on a couch next to Oprah. But seriously, all the support I have received has been overwhelming and humbling."
Collins singled out some fellow NBA players and alums — Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and his brother Jarron Collins — for showing him their "immediate support," especially on Twitter where they have millions of followers, saying that it left him "eternally grateful."
"I know one day soon my story will fade as we celebrate the next person who will break down the barrier and change the stereotype," Collins acknowledged. "But know that I am going to support the community however I can so we can all live in a world where acceptance and tolerance are commonplace."
Bacon and Sedgwick praised Collins as well, with the former "The Closer" actress saying he "forever changed the landscape of LGBT people in sports when he wrote the words, 'I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay'" in his Sports Illustrated essay on April 29.
Equally touching were the speeches given by young gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students who took the stage before and after Collins to talk about the adversity they faced — and how they have been inspired by the pro baller.
Guests, who also included "White Collar" lead Matt Bomer, Jonathan Del Arco, and young Broadway star Lilla Crawford ("Annie") who sang "Tomorrow," were visibly moved by the speeches they listened to over a dinner including filet mignon and chocolate tarts.
As the evening drew to a close, guests filed out with gift bags filled with a potpourri of things from "Revenge: Season 1" DVDs to Barbie dolls but, more importantly, a whole lot of inspiration.
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