President Obama says he told basketball player Jason Collins that he “couldn’t be prouder of him” for coming out as gay while playing in a major US sports league.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, the president said it showed the progress the United States has made in the journey to full equality.

“I had a chance to talk to him yesterday. He seems like a terrific young man and I told him I couldn’t be prouder of him,” the president said. ”I think it’s a great thing. And I think America should be proud that this is just one more step in this ongoing recognition that we treat everybody fairly. And everybody’s part of a family, and we judge people on the basis of their character and their performance, and not their sexual orientation. And so I’m very proud of him.”

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were among dozens of high-profile US public figures to congratulate Jason Collins, who came out yesterday in an article to Sports Illustrated magazine.

Collins has played for six teams in 12 seasons, including this past season with the Washington Wizards, and is now a free agent.

He told ABC News on Monday evening that he hoped other professional athletes would follow his lead.