UMass guard Derrick Gordon hopes his decision to become the first openly gay player in Division I men’s basketball will inspire others.
“There are a lot of kids out there in my situation, probably far worse situations,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “Maybe I can give a lot of kids that confidence that they need to get over that hump.”
Earlier Wednesday, Gordon made the announcement in interviews with ESPN and Outsports. He said he gained confidence by seeing an NBA team sign Jason Collins, who became the league’s first openly gay player when he joined the Brooklyn Nets this season.
“Right now I’m happy. I’m free just to live my life,” Gordon told the AP.
The sophomore was the Minutemen’s fourth-leading scorer with 9.4 points per game last season. UMass reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998 and lost in its first game to Tennessee. He sat out the previous season after transferring from Western Kentucky to be closer to his family in New Jersey, where he played at high school powerhouse St. Patrick.
Gordon said he told his parents he was gay March 30, informed UMass coach Derek Kellogg the next day and told his teammates two days later, which was last Wednesday. He said some of them probably have known since last summer.
“They could sense it because I kind of separated myself from the team,” Gordon said. “I didn’t really hang out with them as far as going to parties and stuff. I really kind of kept to myself, kept quiet. We went on road trips – I’d sit by myself and they were always wondering why. I did it because I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where maybe something happens and they end up finding out. Then what? I’m not going to know how to handle the situation.”
He said he appreciated the support he’s received from his teammates since making his announcement.
“They’re ready to get back in the gym just as much as I am,” Gordon said. “I can’t wait to get back with them and get ready for this upcoming season.”
In the Outsports interview, Gordon said he considered quitting basketball last fall and isolated himself from teammates because of teasing. Over the summer, he had “liked” a photo on Instagram of him and his then-boyfriend in front of a gay bar.
Gordon said Wednesday that he had talked several times with Collins, who made a trailblazing announcement last April when he came out in an interview with Sports Illustrated. In February, he became the first openly gay male athlete in the four major North American pro sports leagues.
Collins tweeted that he was “so proud” of Gordon: “Another brave young man who is going to make it easier for so many others to live an authentic life.”
Michael Sam, an All-American defensive end at Missouri, came out in interviews with ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports in February after his college career ended. He is projected as a middle-round prospect in next month’s NFL draft.
Sam tweeted congratulations to Gordon after the announcement: “You have so many in your corner and we’re all proud and rooting for you.”
Kellogg and UMass director of athletics John McCutcheon offered their support in statements from the school. The coach said that “I have the most profound respect for Derrick and the decision he has made to come out publicly.” He called Gordon “a model student, a terrific competitor, but most importantly, he is a wonderful human being.”