Nearly a year after Jason Collins became the first active NBA player to publicly reveal that he's gay, the New Jersey Nets center's bravery has inspired a college player to feel comfortable doing the same.
UMass guard Derrick Gordon became the first openly gay Division I basketball player when he revealed his sexuality in articles published by Outsports.com and ESPN.com on Wednesday morning. One week earlier, Gordon informed his teammates he was gay at a team meeting, a revelation that was met first with surprise and immediately afterward with support.
"I have the most profound respect for Derrick and the decision he has made to come out publicly," UMass coach Derek Kellogg tweeted Wednesday. "He is a model student, a terrific competitor, but most importantly, he is a wonderful human being. We know his decision weighed heavily on him for some time, but as a coaching staff, a team and a family, we stressed to him that we support him in every way possible."
Gordon told ESPN.com that he previously put up a wall between himself and his UMass teammates out of fear they'd discover his secret, turning down invitations to join other players for meals or other outings in the two years since he transferred from Western Kentucky. The chance to forge a stronger bond with his teammates was one of the reasons he came out to them, as was seeing the support received by Collins and former Missouri defensive end and current NFL draft hopeful Michael Sam after their recent announcements.
"I've lived my life hiding behind somebody who I wasn't," he told ESPN.com. "I wasn't really that close to anybody on this team because there was something I had to hide. So I distanced myself as soon as I got here, and nobody knew why I was doing that."
Gordon, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, started for UMass this past season and averaged 9.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. He helped lead the Minutemen to their first NCAA tournament berth in 16 years where they lost to 11th-seeded Tennessee in the opening round.
That Gordon has thus far received support from his UMass teammates is momentous because his experience surely will influence others. Closeted gay athletes in college basketball and elsewhere surely will notice what happens to Gordon and weigh whether they too can feel comfortable stepping forward.
If Gordon's Instagram post Wednesday morning is any indication, he's thrilled with his decision so far.
"This is the happiest I have ever been in my 22 Years of living," he wrote. "No more HIDING!!!...Just want to live life happy and play the sport that I love."
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