By Arturo R. García
University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon announced to the public on Wednesday — after telling his parents and teammates — that he is a gay man, becoming the first gay male NCAA basketball player.
“I know what it’s like to cry yourself to sleep or ‘have a girlfriend’ when that’s not your girlfriend, just to try and impress your friends,” Gordon said in video published by Outsports on the day of his announcement. “Nobody should have to try to live like that.”
Though his opening up to his teammates was by all accounts positive, the road there appears to have been rough for Gordon.
According to Outsports, some of Gordon’s fellow Minutemen began questioning him about his sexuality after finding a picture of him and his boyfriend on Instagram. The questioning turned into ridicule, and it took a toll on Gordon:
“That was probably the lowest point I was ever at. I didn’t want to play basketball anymore. I just wanted to run and hide somewhere. I used to go back to my room and I’d just cry. There were nights when I would cry myself to sleep.
When Gordon eventually confronted his team – again asserting he was straight and demanding they stop harassing him – the teasing slowed. Yet the damage was already done. Throughout the season – all the way into the NCAA tournament last month – some teammates continued to wait until Gordon was done in the locker room before they would venture into the showers. The “gay” label lingered. The treatment built distance between him and the rest of the team. Gordon responded by isolating himself, which in turn was met with more distance from various players.
ESPN-W reported that Outsports itself became a resource for Gordon, following the public announcements by NBA free agent Jason Collins and former University of Missouri football player Michael Sam. By this point he had also developed his own support group, which included former NFL player Wade Davis — who gave a presentation to National Football League team officials last month regarding LGBTQ issues — and Yonkers, New York high school head coach Anthony Nicodemo, who came out last year.
“I was thinking about summer plans and just being around my teammates and how it was going to be,” Gordon told ESPN. “I just thought, ‘Why not now? Why not do it in the offseason when it’s the perfect time to let my teammates know and everybody know my sexuality?'”
Before telling his teammates, however, Gordon told his family, starting by simply telling his parents he had something important to share with them:
Finally, on the seventh or eighth guess, his mother, Sandra, asked the question he was hoping she would ask.
“Are you gay?”
“And I hopped on it real quick,” Gordon said. “I said, ‘Yes, that’s it.’ And she just looked at me and froze. She was shocked a little bit, but she also said she knew a little bit, too. That’s what surprised me, honestly. But, like they always say, mothers know.”
Derrick’s father, Michael, said little at the time. He seemed to be processing the news, and didn’t reach out to his son (the two usually text frequently) for about 24 hours after Derrick returned to UMass. But when Michael did call, his message was this: I will always love you and support you, no matter what.
Gordon also received help from UMass head coach Derek Kellogg, who gathered the squad for the meeting in which the transfer from Western Kentucky finally confirmed their suspicions — on his terms. Kellogg described the meeting as a bonding experience for Kellogg and his fellow Minutemen.
“The reaction of the team was great. My strength coach, Rich Hogan, stepped up first and just said, D.G., we love you, this doesn’t change anything,” Kellogg told Sports Illustrated. “Then actually the team stepped up and said, really to a man, one by one, that they kind of had known for a while. They’re like, D.G., we’ve been here for you the whole time, we’ve known for like eight months, a year, whatever it might be. This doesn’t change anything. You’re a brother, a family member.”
Gordon’s interview with ESPN, aired on Wednesday, can be seen below.