UMass starter Derrick Gordon announced to the world Wednesday that he is gay, making him the first openly homosexual player in Division I men’s basketball. His revelation marks the third time in recent months that a college or professional athlete still active in their sport has come out as gay. Jason Collins became the NBA’s first openly gay player when he signed with the Brooklyn Nets in February and All-American Missouri linebacker Michael Sam came out in February just after his college career ended.
A sophomore guard from Plainfield, New Jersey, Gordon told his family, coaches and teammates earlier this month. In an interview with ESPN, he said his teammates took the news much easier than his family.
“As soon as I said [I was gay] nobody was surprised,” he said. “They said it was about time you admit it. They said we’re going to support you no matter what. This doesn’t change anything. But with my parents it got to the point that they were guessing and when my mom asked if I was gay, I just hopped on it and said yes, that’s it.”
Gordon said his mother just looked at him and froze, seemingly shocked, but then told him that she had suspected he was gay for some time. His father, he said, took it differently.
“It took him some time to get over it and I didn’t talk to him that much that day after telling him,” he continued. “Then the next day he told me he was going to support me and love me for who I am.”
Gordon said his twin brother cried and took it the worst of anyone, finding the news hard to accept, but seems to be “coming around” more every day. Much like in the case of Michael Sam, who played an entire season while his teammates knew he was gay, Gordon’s teammates were also aware of his sexuality before he even revealed it to them, at least in their own eyes. He told ESPN that his UMass teammates teased him so much during the season that he nearly quit. But they were not poking fun at his being gay, but rather at the notion that he was straight. Gordon said he was constantly talking to teammates about his nonexistent girlfriend and how he couldn’t wait to see her, but the deception only made him feel more helpless. Then when Jason Collins came out, he knew he was ready.
“When he came out, I wanted to come out the next day,” Gordon said. “It was a relief. Like it finally happened. When he played his first game with the Nets everybody stood up and started clapping. I was visualizing that being me but for college. It definitely put a huge smile on my face.”
Gordon, a Western Kentucky transfer, averaged 9.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game during the 2013-14 season, and the Minutemen finished Atlantic 10 play in fifth place, but secured a no.6 seed in the NCAA tournament by virtue of a strong 12-1 nonconference result. UMass lost its opening game of the tournament to no. 11 seed Tennessee.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat