UMass Shooting Guard Derrick Gordon Is College Basketball's First Openly Gay Player, So Hallelujah
University of Massachusetts shooting guard Derrick Gordon has come out as gay — the first time a male collegiate basketball player has done so. A starter in his sophomore year, Gordon decided to open up about who he is, and how he loves, after his UMass Minutemen fell to Tennessee in the NCAA tournament last month. Gordon informed his coach, Derek Kellogg, a couple days before coming out to his teammates, and seems to have received heartening and affirming support.
This news comes on the heels of recent, unprecented progress in athletes feeling comfortable and secure enough — both in their personal wellbeing and future career prospects — to come out. Missouri football player Michael Sam made headlines by doing so earlier this year, and despite fear-mongering by a handful of unnamed NFL general managers, he's considered likely to be selected in May's 2014 NFL draft.
Similarly, professional men's basketball welcomed its first openly-gay player earlier this year, when the Brooklyn Nets signed center Jason Collins. Now, with Collins in the fold, claims that a gay player would disrupt team unity or chemistry can be rightly swept away. Since his signing in late February, the Nets have won 16 of 24 games, ascending the ranks of the NBA's championship hopefuls.
For Gordon, seeing the Nets pick up Collins proved a pivotal moment. "That was so important to me, knowing that sexuality didn't matter, that the NBA was OK with it," he told ESPN.
That's a big part of what makes his coming out so courageous. Like Sam, Gordon chose to do so while still in college, before he's ever drawn a paycheck to practice his trade professionally. He's not a superstar player, to be clear — undersized for his position at six-foot-three, and older than usual as a 22-year-old sophomore. Whether he'll ultimately make it to the NBA is entirely unclear.
But basketball is an international sport, with plenty of places to make your home and get paid to play, from Europe, to Asia, to South America and beyond. Some, no doubt, are prone to the same tensions and bigotries that exist in American society. Gordon's decision valiantly flies in the face of everyone who would tell him to stop and think of those tensions.
And by from the looks of it, the choice has had a tremendously positive personal effect. So says UMass coach Derek Kellogg, who according to ESPN stood by Gordon's side while he told his teammates the news:
From speaking with Derrick, I realized the pressure he had, the weight that was on his shoulders. You can already see in his demeanor that he is so much happier. I actually think this is something that brings our team closer together and helps Derrick play more freely.
It's also a heartening sign that more athletes may start embracing their identities, and reap the benefits of living life free from the closet. For each person who comes out, the pressure on the group loosens a little, and gives them some air to breathe.
There's still a long, long way to go: as mentioned, the NBA has one openly gay player, and the NFL has one in waiting in the form of Michael Sam. Baseball and hockey, on the other hand, have none. But if recent history is any guide, you get the feeling that could change sooner rather than later.
Image: Derrick Gordon/Instagram