Former NBA center Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in the sport, has taken on a new role since retiring prior to this season — that of a mentor to other closeted male athletes, pro and college.

Collins, in New York for this weekend's NBA All-Star Game, was a guest on MSBNC's "All in With Chris Hayes" and he said about his dealings with closeted male athletes:

"Later in my career I was a mentor and it's just shifted," Collins said. "Instead of mentoring young centers in how to give a foul or how you take a charge or this is how you flop [laughs] … Now, it's here are some good people, some good resources to know, some good support systems. We talk about sports, we talk about basketball and we talk about their private lives, how to offer another level of support for them."

The interview begins at the 1:33 mark.

Earlier in the day, Collins was more expansive in an interview with the New York Daily News:

"Yes, I’m in contact with other athletes, collegiate and professionally who are members of the LGBT community who maybe aren’t ready to come out publicly but they have in their private lives," Collins told the Daily News on Thursday at an NBA All-Star event. "At this point it’s up to each individual person who has their life to live. I would hope that one day they do come out, especially while they’re active because you can see from my example, you can see from Robbie Rogers in (professional) soccer, you can have the best of both worlds. …
"I know there are more members of the LGBT community who haven’t yet stepped forward and (I’m) encouraging them that when they do that the world is ready to accept them and support them. As far as the NBA goes- the NBA is an incredible league. Basketball is a sport of inclusion and diversity and I hope they’re able to know how good it will be to be able to live their lives that they want off the court and also be able to have their job on the court."

It's important that Collins makes that distinction between being out in their private life but not publicly. Not every gay athlete is deep in the closet; some are out to family or friends or maybe even some teammates. However, their real power in affecting change only comes when they take the final step and come out publicly. I hope Collins can encourage others to follow in their path when they are ready. They can't ask for a better mentor.