After transferring to the University of Massachusetts from Western Kentucky University to be closer to his family, UMass basketball guard Derrick Gordon still found himself alone and unhappy. “There were a few occasions where he’d roll off by himself rather than with the rest of his teammates or he’d leave the Mullins Center looking like something was on his mind. We’d ask him and he’d say he was fine, but he clearly had some things he was wrestling with in his life,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg.
Rather than combatting the ills that plagued his day to day life, Gordon struggled internally with his emotions throughout the season. Touted as an explosive scorer who would add life to the UMass offense and spur them toward an NCAA tournament run, Gordon found himself becoming more and more insular and having his personal issues affect his performance on the court: ‘I didn’t really hang out with them as far as going to parties and stuff. I really kind of kept to myself, kept quiet. We went on road trips – I’d sit by myself and they were always wondering why. I did it because I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where maybe something happens and they end up finding out. Then what? I’m not going to know how to handle the situation.”
Two weeks after the Minutemen’s loss to Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA tournament, however, Gordon decided it was time to share some crucial information with his team.
Coach Kellogg, having already heard the news from Gordon, brought the team together for a meeting. “We’re all here together, and we need to love each other for who we are. One of your family members, your brother, wants to let you know something about himself.”
Faced with the immediacy of the situation, however, Gordon found it hard to come forward and make the announcement. Luckily, his coach had his back the entire way: “I wanted to let you all know I’m gay,” announced Kellogg.
Witnessing the strength of his coach making such a statement, Gordon found the courage to come forward himself: “No, he’s not. But I am,” Gordon declared.
I am the first Division 1 male basketball player to come out and not the last. I AM gay. I'm not afraid. I'm not alone.
— Derrick Gordon (@DerrickGordon02) April 9, 2014
While the players initially sat in shock following Coach Kellogg’s announcement, immediate support came upon hearing Gordon’s announcement.
“We got you, DG. You’re one of us,” shouted fellow guard and sophomore Trey Davis.
And since that moment, the support has not ceased. Not only has Gordon received positive words of support from his family and teammates, but from the basketball and sporting communities writ-large.
Fordham coach Tom Pecora weighed in on the matter, stating, “Our responsibility as people and coaches in the world of college athletics is obviously to support him in any way we can. I can’t imagine here at Fordham there being an issue with a person in the stands and certainly not with a player on our team. But if there was, I’d go into the stands on behalf of the kid. That’s gotta be the mindset. It’s important for that young man to know people have his back.”
Gordon also received support from two of the most prominent gay athletes at the moment, Michael Sam and Jason Collins.
— Michael Sam (@MikeSamFootball) April 9, 2014
— Jason Collins (@jasoncollins34) April 9, 2014
It was Collins who initially inspired Gordon to come forward after announcing his sexuality to Sports Illustrated in April 2013: “That was so important to me, knowing that sexuality didn’t matter, that the NBA was OK with it,” stated Gordon.
Since the decision to come out as Division 1’s first openly gay athlete, Gordon feels like a new man: “Before, I usually just kept to myself because I didn’t want to lie or be fake. But not anymore. I feel so good right now. It’s like this huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”
Image via Instagram