Gay college player Derrick Gordon thriving after coming out in offseason

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — All of a sudden Derrick Gordon’s voice got excited when asked if he ever had been to Chicago.

Gordon, a starting redshirt junior guard at Massachusetts, became the first openly gay Division I college basketball player when he came out to his family, teammates and the public in April.

No longer does Gordon feel a need to hide his sexuality. Nor does he have to hide the main reason he wants to visit Chicago. It’s not to see the architecture or Lake Michigan.

“Oh, Boystown!” Gordon said referring to one of Chicago’s North Side gay neighborhoods that serves as a party-going Mecca for gay men across the world. “I just heard about that and I was just saying to someone, ‘Man, I need to get out there. I have to.’ I love to experience new things.”

The last seven months have been full of new experiences for Gordon, who at 6-foot-3 is standing taller than he ever has. After making his announcement April 9, Gordon, 22, and a native of Plainfield, N.J., followed in the trailblazing footsteps of former NBA player Jason Collins and former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam as openly gay athletes who were still active in their respective sports.

He feels a burden has been lifted. There is no more going alone to gay clubs, no more sneaking around to date someone without family or teammates finding out.

Gordon feels free — free to attend gay bars without fear of getting recognized and free to date whoever he wants. When Gordon’s Minutemen battle Notre Dame on Saturday in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament in Uncasville, Conn., Gordon’s 50-year-old boyfriend Mark, who lives in Los Angeles, will be in attendance.

“I have honestly one word for it — unbelievable,” Gordon told the Tribune last week. “I’ve overcome so much and just within these four years to be able to just live so happily, play the sport I love and have so many people support me, it’s a blessing.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into when I was coming out.”

He has already earned the respect of coach Mike Brey and his Notre Dame team, who defeated Massachusetts on Saturday.

“It’s big,” Notre Dame junior Zach Auguste said. “I give him a lot of credit for doing what he did, especially fighting through adversity.”

Gordon wasn’t sure if he ever would feel this happy or reach this point in his life. His journey to acceptance as a gay man is a familiar one to those who are gay.

It started when he was young, around eighth grade, when he noticed an attraction to men. After dismissing those initial feelings as a phase, Gordon noticed the attraction intensify as he entered high school. Finally, when he was a freshman at Western Kentucky, where he attended one year before transferring to UMass, Gordon couldn’t keep it suppressed any longer.

“It actually picked up even more and I’m like, ‘Man I’m looking at guys way more than I’m looking at girls,’ ” Gordon said. “I came to grips with it at the end of my freshman year and I can’t hide from it, run from it or whatever it may be.

“I had no attraction toward girls at all anymore and that’s when I was really nervous. I wasn’t sure what to really do.”

As is common among closeted gay men, Gordon turned to the Internet. There was no one in his life he felt comfortable discussing his feelings with, so various dating sites and applications provided an outlet for Gordon to vent and meet other men. He began dating someone during his transfer year at UMass.

“He would come to my games and people didn’t know,” Gordon said. “I’d have to sneak around just to go see him and I didn’t want to do that anymore. Why should I be sneaking around with someone I want to be with and this is who I am?”

That burden plus the announcement of Collins, whom Gordon referred to as his “brother,” in April 2013 inspired Gordon to come out. The only thing holding Gordon back was how the NBA might perceive him. He’s trying to defy the odds and become a draft pick.

“I was just nervous because I didn’t want NBA teams or scouts or head coaches to use that against me,” Gordon said.

Before his announcement Gordon was alienated from his teammates in part because he wasn’t comfortable with himself. He was hiding this secret and they didn’t know who he really was. After he came out, it didn’t create a distraction for the team; it brought players closer together and helped improve Gordon’s play. He is averaging 14.7 points per game so far this season, up from 9.4.

Gordon’s announcement didn’t carry the volume of media coverage as Sam’s or Collins’, but it’s no less significant. Gordon can help dispel common “myths” of manhood and masculinity that go along with being gay in African-American culture, according to Wade Davis, a former NFL player who is the executive director of the You Can Play project, which provides support to gay and lesbian athletes.

“Derrick sees it through a very different lens than the rest of us,” said Davis, who is also black. “I think specifically that a young black gay man can find certain levels of solidarity with Derrick more than with Jason Collins (who is 35) because they’re just born at a different time.”

African-American culture has been hesitant to embrace the LGBT community. A significant obstacle to the passage of Illinois’ gay marriage law in 2013 came from black state legislators who were against the law on religious grounds. These attitudes combine to keep many young black gay men in the closet, but Davis said Gordon can help change that.

Gordon hopes he can be a role model for any struggling gay man, regardless of race. He once was conflicted, confused and unsure what direction his life would go. Now he is happy, finally free to play basketball and have dinner with his boyfriend after the game.

It may sound simple, but there’s finally solace in the simple.

“Even though I’m black, it’s still OK to be gay,” he said. “I’m willing to help anybody regardless of race just be able to live happy.

“I honestly wish everybody would come out. Even if you don’t play sports, I wish everybody would come out. You may not think you have support, but you’re going to have support.”

Source: MSN Sports

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