AMHERST, Mass. - UMass sophomore Derrick Gordon became the first openly gay player in Division I men's college basketball on Wednesday, coming out to both ESPN and Outsports a week after sharing his story with his teammates.
"I just didn't want to hide anymore, in any way," Gordon told ESPN. "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?' "
Gordon said he decided to come out publicly in the days following UMass's loss to Tennessee in the NCAA tournament. The 6-3 guard started all 33 games this season for the Minutemen, averaging 9.4 points and 3.5 rebounds. The Plainfield, N.J., native transferred from Western Kentucky two seasons ago. Prior to college, he played at St. Patrick High School, one of the nation's powerhouse programs.
Gordon told ESPN that a key moment for him when deciding to come out publicly was when the Brooklyn Nets signed veteran center Jason Collins to a 10-day contract in February. Collins, who came out to Sports Illustrated last May, became the first openly gay player in NBA history when he played against the Lakers on Feb. 23. It had taken many months, but a team had signed Collins knowing the full story behind the man and player.
"That was so important to me, knowing that sexuality didn't matter, that the NBA was OK with it," Gordon said.
Gordon came out to his teammates on April 2, three days after he told Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg that he was gay.
"I'm proud of him for coming out, I think it's really courageous what he's doing," Kellogg told USA TODAY Sports. "He's talking about saving people's lives. Who doesn't want a kid like that on their team?"
Kellogg continued: "I think this kind of thing can unite us more than anything. And now it's out in the open so I think that helps make it more comfortable. ... He wanted to finally be himself. He didn't want to hide anymore. We support him 100%."
Gordon told ESPN that after he made his announcement to his teammates, one of them immediately spoke up and said, "We got you; you're one of us." Then, Gordon and four other members of the team ate dinner together.
After he broke his own news Wednesday morning, Gordon posted a photo of himself in a #BETRUE T-shirt on Instagram with the caption: "This is the happiest I have ever been in my 22 Years of living...No more HIDING!!!...Just want to live life happy and play the sport that I love...Really would love to thank my family, friends, coaches, and teammates for supporting me."
In an Outsports article that chronicled Gordon's college career, Gordon described feelings of isolation and paranoia while he remained in the closet. He'd sometimes go to gay clubs in Manhattan to feel comfortable, but not parties or bars near UMass's campus.
"It was the worst four years of my life," Gordon told Outsports. "It was torture. I was just going around faking my whole life, being someone I'm not. It's like wearing a mask because everyone else was wearing that mask. Now that I'm taking the mask off, people can finally see who I really am."
Gordon developed relationships with Wade Davis, a gay former NFL Player and You Can Play project executive director, and former and Saunders High School basketball coach Anthony Nicodemo, who had come out as gay himself a year earlier, over the last year. The two played pivotal roles in helping Gordon understand and connect with other gay males in the sports world, men who understood his desire to live authentically.
Moving forward, Gordon said he hopes to return his focus solely to basketball, but he knows now after coming out publicly, he can do more. He hopes to break down at least one stereotype.
"People think gay men are soft," Gordon said. "I'm not. Especially my background growing up, I was never a soft kid and I'll never be a soft kid. People think gays are very delicate. That's not the case at all. I know Michael Sam and Jason Collins aren't delicate. My strength coach compares me to a pit bull. There's no softness in this body."