Almost two years ago, Derrick Gordon made history by announcing that he is gay, in the process becoming the first openly gay male basketball player in the NCAA’s Division I. This week, he’ll make more history by becoming the first openly gay player to compete in the NCAA tournament.
Gordon was playing at the University of Massachusetts when he came out and U-Mass. advanced to the tournament when he was a closeted gay man. Now he’s playing at Seton Hall, which won the Big East tournament Saturday and was awarded a six seed on Selection Sunday. They play Gonzaga on Thursday at approximately 9:57 p.m. on truTV.
Gordon’s presence in the tournament may not make much of a ripple, though. Athletes are increasingly coming out of the closet since Jason Collins became the first openly gay active player in major men’s sports in North America in April 2013. Brittney Griner, the former Baylor star who has said she was asked not to come out while she was still in college, announced that she is openly gay after her collegiate career ended. Michael Sam became the first openly gay player taken in the NFL draft in 2014.
“For us, the fact that he’s gay is an old story,” Seton Hall Coach Kevin Willard told USA Today last summer. “These kids know about Derrick, they’re on social media and are very informed. This generation of athletes are much more educated on the gay athlete. I think the attention is brought on by adults. We make it a bigger deal. Some of these kids can teach us a lesson on how to handle this type of stuff.”
Gordon, who was immediately eligible to play for the Pirates as a graduate student after earning his degree at U-Mass., moved on from the story of his orientation, too, declining to discuss it during the season. During the transfer process, though, being gay was an issue.
“During the recruiting process, a number of schools didn’t want me because I’m gay,” Gordon told USA Today’s Scott Gleeson. “To me, that’s blatant homophobia. At the end of the day, no coaches will ever admit that they don’t want me because I’m gay and there’s baggage that comes with the attention.
“Honestly, it caught me off-guard. It really hurt. It had me stressing, crying. I was starting to lose hope. I felt like I was being treated like an outsider, like I didn’t belong in the NCAA. I couldn’t believe it because I’m a good player and they were looking at the opposite — something that doesn’t mean anything with my [sexuality]. … ‘Nah, not the gay guy.’ ”
Gordon is averaging 7.9 points and 3.3 rebounds off the bench after averaging 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds as a junior at U-Mass. Now, at Seton Hall, he’s a leader as well as a player.
“He’s like an older brother,” sophomore Ismael Sanogo told Fox Sports. “He’s there to calm us down in troubling times. When the game is getting out of hand, he comes in and calms us down. Not even on the court [but] off the court and in the locker room, he has an older-brother presence that seems to calm us down.”
More 2016 NCAA tournament coverage: