On the heels of Monday's revelation that NBA player Jason Collins is gay, and has formally come out in this week's edition of Sports Illustrated, "Piers Morgan Live" invited Martina Navratilova to share her insight and perspective.
As part of the program's debut edition of a segment entitled "In The Chair," the tennis great and LGBT advocate noted the significance of Collins' announcement, in the process comparing it to her own personal experience:
"Madison Avenue totally shunned me. I lost who knows how much money. But I was able to play the sport. Nobody was going to take that away from me, I was still able to play tennis," said the 18-time Grand Slam champion, who herself came out in 1981, shortly after becoming an American citizen. "It's so different from team sports. Athletes, if they come out and the coach is homophobic, or the front office or what have you, they may not get to play. So my livelihood was never threatened, but I certainly didn't make any money on the outside of the sport. But now, for Jason, maybe the case is different, and he may actually get more money because of it. It's kind of ironic.
Joining Piers Morgan in what will become the signature one-on-one, in-depth interview portion of the show, Navratilova explained how Monday's sporting news resonated with her personally, noting how far things have come in the last three decades:
"I didn't get a phone call from Ronald Reagan," joked the 56-year-old native of Czechoslovakia, referencing the fact that Collins has heard from Barack Obama, who applauded the player's courage. "Times were much different then. I didn't really feel it that badly playing matches. But, still, a lot of crowds were sitting on their hands. They weren't clapping when I came on the court or they were booing or jeering. The press was roasting me. It was not a pretty sight. I'd say it was about 95 percent against, and maybe I'd get five percent of support. Now, for Jason, it's much different. It's, I think, the other way around. It's 95 percent for, maybe five percent against. It's fantastic."
Watch the clip, and listen to the interview, as Navratilova concluded her "In The Chair" segment by sending a poignant, if not simple, message to Collins, the first active, openly gay male athlete playing in one of the four top professional American sports organizations: