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Derrick Gordon, a 22-year-old sophomore shooting guard for the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team, publicly came out of the closet on Wednesday (4/9/14), becoming the first active openly-gay male NCAA Division I basketball player.
Derrick came out to his family, coaches and teammates at the very beginning of April. That’s when he also decided to publicly acknowledge his sexuality. He told an ESPN reporter “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?’”
Derrick did an interview with Outsports about his decision and explained the difficulty of leading a double life. That double life began to crumble when Gordon’s then-boyfriend last summer posted a photograph on Instagram of the two of them in front of a gay bar on the New Jersey coast. Gordon was wary of the post but figured there was little chance someone would stumble across the photo on a random Instagram account and identify him and said gay bar. Shortly after the post, almost as though he wanted to be discovered, Gordon “liked” the photograph online. Within hours, some of his teammates asked him if he were gay. Gordon denied it repeatedly, but that didn’t stop various members of the team from teasing him about it. The snickers and snide remarks carried on for weeks. Slowly, it consumed him.
“That was probably the lowest point I was ever at. I didn’t want to play basketball anymore. I just wanted to run and hide somewhere. I used to go back to my room and I’d just cry. There were nights when I would cry myself to sleep. Nobody should ever feel that way.”
Gordon then revealed his secret to his teammates last Wednesday, with the help of team coach Kellogg. Gordon stood before them and revealed that he’s gay. As he shared with them his story of isolation, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. While it had been easy for some of the young men to tease someone they thought was gay, and someone who denied it… the impact of their actions hit home when Gordon revealed the speculation was true, and that the teasing nearly drove him from the team.
“It was powerful for these players to see one of their brothers be so vulnerable,” said coach Kellogg, “even I had to turn away from the group in the room lest they see me get emotional. These are some inner-city kids, some rough, tough kids who Derrick wants to be friends with. They understand who he is a little bit better now.”
Shortly after the team meeting, Gordon was over the moon, spending this past weekend in New York City. Dancing at Industry, a gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen, Saturday well past midnight, Gordon said he had found something indescribable.
“‘Happy’ is not even the word,” Gordon said. “It’s a great feeling. I haven’t felt like this. Ever. It’s a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders. I can finally breathe now and live life happily. I told all the people I need to tell. It feels like freedom“