Derrick Gordon Becomes First Openly Gay NCAA Basketball Play

Derrick Gordon, a sophomore starter on the University of Massachusetts’ basketball team, became the first openly gay player in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball league on April 9. The shooting guard came out during an interview with ESPN, and he had only come out to his family, coaches and teammates a few days prior to the interview. Gordon has joined NBA player Jason Collins and Missouri football star Michael Sam with this public declaration. While Sam aspires to be the first openly gay football player and Collins continues his career in the NBA, Gordon’s announcement can greatly affect the future of gay athletes in college athletics.

After coming out to his family and friends, the 22-year-old shooting guard decided to publicly acknowledge his sexuality.

“I just didn’t want to hide anymore, in any way. I didn’t want to have to lie or sneak. I’ve been waiting and watching for the last few months, wondering when a Division I player would come out, and finally I just said, ‘Why not me?'” Gordon said. His bravery will hopefully influence others to come out, just as he was influenced by Collins’ announcement in April 2013. Collins signed two 10-day contracts with the Brooklyn Nets and became the first openly gay player to take the court in a game against the LA Lakers on February 23 of this year.

After UMass lost in the first round of the tournament to Tennessee, Gordon reached his decision to come out publicly.

“I just had a lot of time to myself, thinking, and I didn’t know what I was waiting for.” Gordon said. After the guard came out to UMass head coach Derek Kellogg in a phone conversation three days prior to his announcement to the team, the coach stood by his side in the team meeting.

Gordon’s announcement to his team had mixed responses. After the announcement, one teammate spoke up and said, “We got you; you’re one of us.” Sophomore forward Tyler Bergantino said that even before he made his announcement, something had changed in Gordon’s demeanor.

“He looked happier, stress-free, like that was the real him. Before, when he would walk into the locker room, there was this cloud around him, like you couldn’t quite get to him,” Bergantino said. After his announcement, Gordon went out to dinner with four other members of the team, proving their unwavering support of their teammate. Other players on the team, however, said, “this doesn’t happen [where they live].”

The You Can Play Project, a group that works to ensure respect and safety for athletes without regard for sexual orientation, was a great ally to Gordon. About a year ago, the shooting guard reached out to the executive director of the group, Wade Davis. In his interview, Gordon told ESPN that the network of allies behind the scenes was instrumental to him. Davis spoke highly of Gordon.

“I’ve watched him grow into a confident young man who is ready to be a leader on and off the court. His fearless desire to be his authentic self and his personal story of triumph will inspire others and continue to expand consciousness,” Davis said. With so much public support behind him, Gordon’s announcement will be an inspiration to all college athletes, especially those competing in Division I. With Collins, Sam and Gordon’s announcements of their sexuality, the stigma of gay college and professional athletes is slowly beginning to gain awareness and the opposition is ebbing.

Like most Division I athletes, Gordon aspires to play on the professional level.

“That was so important to me, knowing that sexuality didn’t matter, that the NBA was OK with it,” Gordon said after hearing Collins was signed to the Brooklyn Nets for the remainder of the 2014 season in early March. Both Collins and Sam tweeted their support for Gordon after his ESPN interview. The guard hopes his actions will encourage other athletes to follow his example.

“It’s a lot of us. Not just basketball. We’re hiding. Of course, I’m not hiding anymore.These past couple of days have been the happiest days of my life. I was suffering. I was crying. I felt I wasn’t wanted. That’s the worst way to live,” Gordon said. He hopes his story will empower others not to hide in silence, but to embrace who they are and let the world know.

Contact Kristen Duarte at [email protected].