A recent trend of athletes making news with public disclosures of their sexuality continued on the UMass Amherst campus, where basketball player Derrick Gordon announced he is gay. Gordon is the first openly gay NCAA Division I men’s basketball player.
During a round of interviews with dozens of reporters on Wednesday, Gordon, a sophomore from New Jersey, said he just wanted to be himself, live a happy life, and not hide the truth any longer. He was not necessarily looking to become a trailblazer.
" There was no high profile player that came out in Division I, so I was waiting around, waiting around, and realized it was not going to happen right now. I feel comfortable with myself and happy with myself so this is a perfect time to do it."
But Gordon said he is comfortable with his new status as a role model.
" The microscope is going to be on me everywhere I go. I am great kid and not worried about getting into trouble on or off the court. It does come with a lot of responsibility, but I am ready to handle it."
Gordon said he had wrestled for about four years with whether he should come out as gay. During the past season he had isolated himself from teammates and would go back to his room and cry. After the Minutemen lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament last month, Gordon sought counsel from friends and mentors who knew he was gay and made the decision to come out.
" There's a lot of kids out there killing themselves over this and not able to live how they want to live. I just want to give them confidence enough to say it is alright to be gay. You can still play a sport you love."
First he had to tell his parents, which he did on Sunday, March 30th.
" Mom said she always knew. Mothers always know. My father, it took him a little more time. No father wants to hear their son tell him they're gay. It took him a couple of hours to come around. He said he was happy for who I am and would love and support me no matter what."
A few days later he told his head coach and his teammates. One of the teammates, Tyler Bergantino is Gordon’s roommate. He said the team meeting was unforgettable.
" When he said 'I'm gay' his posture went straight up up, the fog just left. He looked genuinely happy and comfortable and felt confident again. I think that is awesome."
Gordon has received strong statements of support from the UMass Director of Athletics John McCutcheon and head basketball coach Derek Kellogg.
" The reaction of the team and his family of brothers here has been great. I think it is going to be a positive for a lot of reasons, not only for the Amherst and UMass communities, but nationally."
Pat Griffin is a professor emeritus in the social justice education program at UMass who consults with college athletic departments around the country on creating more inclusive climates and policies. She said there have always been gay student-athletes, but most have chosen to keep their sexuality a secret.
" It is true of every LGBT athlete I've known that when they come out they feel like a burden has lifted and they have more time and energy to commit to their athletics and academics. It makes a big difference to be true to yourself."
Griffin said larger societal changes in the last decade have made it far easier for athletes to come out.
" There is more openness in every field from entertainment to politics to sports. We know from the research that the more people know gay people in their lives as family members, co-workers and friends it changes attitudes because it breaks down stereotypes."
Two athletes who recently came out as gay, NBA player Jason Collins, and NFL draft prospect Michael Sam both contacted Gordon to offer support and encouragement.