AMHERST — University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon on Wednesday announced he is gay.
Gordon thus becomes the first openly gay Division 1 men’s college basketball player, joining NBA player Jason Collins and Michael Sam, a prospect in next month’s NFL draft, in a recent trend of athletes coming out to the public.
“I was waiting around, waiting around, and then I just came to the senses that it’s not going to happen right now unless somebody steps up to the plate and does it,” Gordon said. “I felt comfortable with myself and happy about myself that, hey, this is the perfect time to do it.”
“He’s been a great member of our team, a great member of our family,” UMass athletic director John McCutcheon said of Gordon, who was fourth on the Minutemen in scoring this season at 9.4 points per game, “and any time you have this opportunity to be open and honest and inclusive, I think it’s a really positive thing for Derrick and the program.”
Gordon, who said he started to have thoughts back in middle school he might be gay, gathered his support team of friends, who knew he was gay, following UMass’s exit from the NCAA Tournament March 21 to finalize his plan for an announcement. Gordon then went home to Plainfield, N.J., on March 30 to tell his parents.
Gordon said his mother already knew of his sexual orientation, but his father took a little longer to digest the information.
“No father wants to hear their son tell him that they’re gay, so it took him about a couple hours, but he came around and he was just happy for who I am, and said he’s always going to love and support me for who I was,” Gordon said.
After receiving the support of his parents, Gordon’s next move was to call coach Derek Kellogg that same night. Kellogg could sense the redshirt sophomore’s apprehension over the phone and said, “What’s going on? You can tell me anything.”
After Gordon told him, Kellogg paused for only a second before expressing his support. Kellogg showed that support April 2 when it came time to tell the team. With the other players waiting in the locker room, Kellogg could sense Gordon’s nerves starting to build as they approached. That’s when Kellogg decided he would break the ice. Kellogg told the team Gordon was gay, before Gordon quickly jumped in.
“It made things a lot easier,” Gordon said. “I was able to tell my story more and express myself a lot more, which was good. They all accepted me. You could see it throughout when I was telling my story, you could some teammates getting a little emotional or whatever because I was speaking from my heart and that they really care about me besides the basketball aspect.”
“I was going to try to do anything I could to make it more comfortable for D.G. in our meeting,” Kellogg said.
One of the players in the meeting was sophomore center Tyler Bergantino, who arrived at Amherst in 2012 with Gordon, who had transferred from Western Kentucky. The two also have been roommates.
Bergantino noticed when Gordon started to become more isolated this season.
“You could just tell there was kind of a fog about him,” Bergantino said. “The moment he said, ‘I’m gay,’ it was fog gone. It was sunshine. It was great. He took the weight vest off.”
Gordon said Collins and Sam have reached out to him, saying Gordon can be someone for others to look up to. Gordon said he’s comfortable with the idea of being a role model.
“There’s a lot of kids out there killing themselves over this and not able to live how they want to live,” Gordon said. “And I just want to be able to give them people confidence enough to say, ‘Hey, it’s all right to be gay. You can still play the sport that you love.’ ”
As for next season, Gordon isn’t worried about going on the road and how he’ll be received by visiting crowds. In fact, he said he’s been called just about everything by opposing fans, even before he announced he is gay.
“Them saying something about my sexual orientation, it’s going to make me play better, honestly,” Gordon said. “It’s not going to affect me, not one bit.”
Follow Stephen Sellner on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.