BOSTON (Reuters) - An assistant basketball coach at Bryant University came out as gay in a first-person essay published by Outsports.com late Wednesday, making him the first coach of a top-level U.S. college program to do so, according to U.S. media.
The coach, Chris Burns, said this summer's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states made him decide to make his sexual orientation public.
"I thought of the people who never got to see that day, who fought for equal rights but didn't get their time," he wrote. "They deserve to be validated and recognized for their efforts and for their struggles."
Cable sports network ESPN said Burns was the first Division I college basketball coach to come out.
Few U.S. professional and college athletes have publicly identified themselves as gay, with one prominent exception. Michael Sam last year became the first openly gay athlete drafted by a National Football League team, though he was later cut.
Former National Basketball Association player Jason Collis came out as gay in 2013, toward the end of his 13-year playing career, and went on to play another season with the Brooklyn Nets before retiring.
A May study by the Repucom market research firm found that homophobia was more pronounced in U.S. sports than in other English-speaking countries, with 62 percent of respondents saying that homophobia was more common in team sports than other parts of society.
Burns said he was pleasantly surprised by the way colleagues reacted when he told them he is gay.
"My fears were far worse than reality," Burns wrote. "For a guy who's relatively cynical and can be negative, the reactions of people in my sport and in my life have shut me right up and re-energized my hope in the human spirit."
Burns has coached at the Smithfield, Rhode Island-based university's Division I team since 2013. He is an alumni of the school who played on the team from 2003 through 2007 and was named player of the game in the 2005 National Collegiate Athletics Association championship at a time when Bryant competed in Division II.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)