UMass guard Derrick Gordon has made public that he’s a gay man. This announcement – carefully planned by Gordon and the university – makes him the first active player in Division One basketball history to do so.
Derrick Gordon says he came to grips with the fact that he was gay about four years ago. But it was only after the Minutemen were eliminated in the just concluded NCAA tournament that he decided the time was right to come out, first to his family. He says his mother’s reaction was that she always knew, but it took his father and twin brother a bit longer to process and accept the news.
“I was shaking the whole time, so I didn’t really know how to go about it,” Gordon says. “But…once I got through telling my parents it was a lot easier to tell my teammates.”
Maybe easier, but no less nerve racking. UMass coach Derek Kellogg says he and the 22-year-old red shirt sophomore he calls DG talked about how to break the news to his fellow players about his decision to come out.
“I think DG was really nervous, more of how the guys were going to react or…if there was going to be any blowback to a certain extent, or how he was going to break the ice to the team,” Kellogg says. “And so I did it for him.”
Kellogg announced to the team that he was gay – a joke that Gordon says was his idea.
“It shocked everybody in the room. But as soon as I said it, it didn’t,” Gordon says. “So it made things a lot easier and I was able to tell my story more and express myself more a lot more, which was good. They all accepted me. You could see throughout when I was telling my story you could see a couple of teammates getting a little emotional or whatever, because I was speaking from my heart. And they really care about me, just besides the basketball aspect.”
Gordon says he feels like a great weight has been lifted off his shoulders. The pressure of keeping his orientation secret from friends and teammates had been so great, that he even thought about quitting basketball. Gordon says he hopes his decision will make it easier for other gay athletes to stay in sports.
“There’s a lot of kids out there that’s killing themselves over this and not able to live how they want to live,” Gordon says. “And I just want to give them people confidence enough to just say hey it’s alright to be gay, you can still play the sport that you love.”
Gordon says he’s received encouragement from the NBA’s Jason Collins and NFL prospect Michael Sam, two other high-profile athletes who’ve recently come out.
Gordon got help from the university and its athletics department in making the announcement, including setting up an event for the media Wednesday.
Pat Griffin is professor emerita at UMass and an advocate for LGBT equality in sports.
“There have always been student athletes on campus who identify as gay and lesbian. They haven’t always been public because I think sometimes they’re afraid they’re not sure how their coaches will respond. And this applies to all schools, not just UMass,” Griffin says.
“So I think having the athletic department have such a supportive reaction to Derek’s coming out will probably mean other athletes will feel more comfortable identifying themselves publicly, or at least within their teams and to their coaches, which is a great thing,” she says.
Initial reaction on campus to Derek Gordon’s announcement ranged from quite favorable to no big deal.
“I have zero reaction. I think it’s no big deal,” Darby Hill says. “It’s totally good for anyone to come out with their sexuality. Definitely.”
“I don’t see it is a problem,” says Dorothy Adams. “I hope that it can be the start of something where other students can feel comfortable doing the same.”
“I think it’s awesome that Derrick had the courage to do it,” says Jack Neill. “And hopefully one day this won’t be necessarily something that’s breaking news, but I think it’s cool that UMass is going to be the first campus that’s accepting of it…I think actually this will probably make him more comfortable on the court and with his teammates and everything, so I think he’ll play even better.”