For years, people openly wondered when a male professional athlete would come out as gay. Then Jason Collins became the first openly gay male professional athlete to do so. “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” he proudly announced in Sports Illustrated a year ago this month. Those 10 words set him free. And they emboldened others to follow. Two months ago, University of Missouri football player Michael Sam followed suit. becoming the first in his sport to come out. Today, we’re celebrating Derrick Gordon.
Gordon is a sophomore basketball player at the University of Massachusetts. His coming out makes him the first openly gay player in Division I men’s college basketball. “I just didn’t want to hide anymore, in any way,” Gordon said during a lengthy interview with Kate Fagan of 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?’”
Collins’s coming out was a thunderbolt for Gordon. “When he came out, I wanted to come out the next day,” he said. But Gordon said he hesitated because Collins wasn’t signed to an NBA team when came out. That changed in February when Collins signed with the Brooklyn Nets. Thus, he became the first openly gay male professional basketball player.
While we cheer Gordon, we must cheer another athlete in another sport who came out at another school. Last month, Matthew Dooley came out to his varsity tennis team and coach at Notre Dame. He told his harrowing coming out story in a first-person account on outsports.com. A suicide attempt on Sept. 16, 2011 started his journey from closeted isolation to affirmation at one of the most conservative universities in the country. Not only was his best friend a rock of support, so was Notre Dame.
Collins, Sam, Gordon and Dooley are the new faces of sports. Out, proud and playing the sports that are equally integral to who they are. “No word or anything can hurt me right now,” Gordon told ESPN. “I know who I am and I’m happy with who I am.” May other athletes — student and professional who might be struggling in the closet — find the strength and courage to follow in the footsteps of these men.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj