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Congratulations to Derrick Gordon
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 04/09/14
Last updated on: 04/10/14
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Derrick Gordon.

Congratulations to University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon on becoming the first Division I NCAA college basketball player to come out while still playing. Gordon, a 6'3" sophomore who started for all 33 UMass games this year, came out to his teammates on April 2, 2014. The news was revealed on April 9 by Outsports.com and ESPN.

As John Branch reports in the New York Times, Gordon was a high school basketball star at St. Patrick High School in Plainfield, New Jersey. He played his freshman year at Western Kentucky, where he was the leading scorer (11.7 points per game) and rebounder (6.7 per game) and helped lead the team to the N.C.A.A. tournament.

In 2012, he transferred to UMass and sat out a season, as required by N.C.A.A. rules. This season he averaged 9.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. (Other stats may be found at the UMass website.) The Minutemen compiled a 24-9 record and reached the N.C.A.A. tournament, where they lost to Tennessee in their opening game.

Soon after that loss, at a team meeting arranged by UMass Coach Derek Kellogg, Gordon acknowledged his homosexuality, which he had previously denied.

Kellogg issued a statement expressing unqualified support for Gordon. "I have the most profound respect for Derrick and the decision he has made to come out publicly," he said. "He is a model student, a terrific competitor, but most importantly, he is a wonderful human being. We know his decision weighed heavily on him for some time, but as a coaching staff, a team and a family, we stressed to him that we support him in every way possible."

The University of Massachusetts Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy and its athletic director John McCutcheon also released statements of support.

Gordon credited Jason Collins, who a year ago became the first active NBA player to announce his homosexuality and who now plays for the Brooklyn Nets, for giving him the confidence to come out. On Wednesday, Collins used Twitter to commend Gordon as "Another brave young man who is going to make it easier for so many others to live an authentic life."

Michael Sam, the University of Missouri football player who recently came out and is expected to become the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL, also tweeted encouragement. "Many congratulations to you Derrick Gordon--you have so many in your corner and we're all proud and rooting for you #courage."

In an interview with Outsports' Cyd Zeigler, Gordon explained his relief at finally coming out after denying rumors that had come to the attention of his teammates. "'Happy' is not even the word," Gordon said. "It's a great feeling. I haven't felt like this. Ever. It's a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders. I can finally breathe now and live life happily. I told all the people I need to tell."

Zeigler's account of Gordon's coming out is must reading. It beautifully contrasts the painful loneliness Gordon felt as a young man in the closet with the joy he experienced simply by being truthful to himself and others.

Zeigler also puts into context the reaction of Gordon's teammates to his revelation. "As he shared with them his story of isolation, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. While it had been easy for some of the young men to tease someone they thought was gay--and someone who denied it--the impact of their actions hit home when Gordon revealed the speculation was true, and that the teasing nearly drove him from the team."

"The team responded well. Some of them lamented that Gordon had pulled away from them. It wasn't their intent: The teasing had hit home in a way that landed wrong with him. . . . They didn't know how to talk with Gordon about their assumption that he was gay, so they relied on locker room teasing."

Zeigler also chronicles the help Gordon received from Anthony Nicodemo, an openly gay high school coach in New York, and Wade Davis, a former N.F.L. player and director of the You Can Play project.

In the video below, Gordon speaks with Outsport's Cyd Zeigler.

In the video below, Gordon speaks with ESPN's Kate Fagan.

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