The NCAA Has Its First Openly Gay Men's D-I Basketball Player

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 9 2014 12:49 PM

The NCAA Has Its First Openly Gay Men's D-I Basketball Player

479932979-derrick-gordon-of-the-massachusetts-minutemen-reacts
Derrick Gordon during this year's NCAA Tournament.

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

UMass sophomore Derrick Gordon today became the first Division I men’s basketball player to come out publicly. Outsports and ESPN both have detailed stories on the event, and here's the latter with the play-by-play of Gordon sharing the news with his teammates:

[T]he sophomore shooting guard stood and walked into the room, accompanied by University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Derek Kellogg. Gordon faced his teammates, a group of guys he liked but had always kept at arm's length. ...
Kellogg spoke first. "We're all here together, and we need to love each other for who we are," he said. "One of your family members, your brother, wants to let you know something about himself."
There was a pause. And then Kellogg, sensing that Gordon needed help, tried breaking the ice. "I wanted to let you all know I'm gay," the coach said. His players all looked at him, stunned. What?
Gordon took his cue and spoke up. “No, he's not. But I am."
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(Interesting segue strategy, Coach!)

Gordon’s news comes on the heels of former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam’s coming-out announcement in February, as well as the Brooklyn Nets’ signing of Jason Collins, who had come out last April while a free agent. But Gordon’s story, at least initially, seems darker than theirs.

Outsports’ Cyd Zeigler reports that last summer Gordon—still ostensibly straight in the eyes of most people he knew—“liked” an Instagram picture of himself and his then-boyfriend taken in front of a gay bar. Teammates began teasing him for being gay, though he denied it. “Throughout the season—all the way into the NCAA tournament last month—some teammates continued to wait until Gordon was done in the locker room before they would venture into the showers,” Zeigler writes. Gordon became totally socially withdrawn, he says, and even considered quitting the team. (Gordon calls the time between realizing he was gay and coming out “the worst four years of my life.”)

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Kate Fagan reports that Gordon’s older brother Daryl, who has been in prison since 2009 for attempted murder, did not initially react well to the news, telling his brother that the idea of his family member being gay had made him cry in disbelief, and suggesting that counseling might change his mind.

For now, the story has a happy ending: both Gordon’s brother and his initially-wary father have come around and promised him their support, while the teammates who had teased him were, in Zeigler’s account, both welcoming of his announcement and distraught to hear how much distress they had caused. "'Happy' is not even the word," Gordon told Zeigler of his current mood. "It's a great feeling. I haven't felt like this. Ever.” Gordon, already a standout player for UMass (which three weeks ago lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament), will be back next season for his junior year.

Ben Mathis-Lilley edits the Slatest. Follow @Slatest on Twitter.

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