PIONEERS
PIONEERS

Jason Collins

Jason Collins TIME 100
Paola Kudacki for TIME

The NBA player who went first

I met Jason Collins when we were freshmen at Stanford. Not surprisingly, the first thing I noticed was his height. The second thing I noticed was his kindness off the court — and his fierceness on it. Kindness to his friends, his family and fans. Fierceness in his drive to win. Jason has always been focused on others, on what’s right for those he loves, and on helping those whose jersey is the same as his.

When Jason called to talk about his forthcoming Sports Illustrated cover story, “The Gay Athlete,” I realized at some point that I wasn’t surprised we were having the conversation we were. Not because I knew what we were going to talk about when I answered the phone. Rather, because it made eminent sense that it would be Jason becoming the first openly gay, still active pro athlete in a major U.S. sports league.

Jason’s kindness and fierceness alike derive from that word too often bandied about and too rarely true: integrity. Jason has always maintained he’s first a basketball player. He is. But he’s also a leader and an inspiration. For Michael Sam, Derrick Gordon and others whose names we may never know. And also for those of us lucky enough to be fans — or to call him our friend.

Clinton is vice chair of the Clinton Foundation

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