Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon became the first openly gay player in Division I men's basketball on Wednesday, making the announcement in interviews with ESPN and Outsports days after coming out to his family and teammates.
" 'Happy' is not even the word," Gordon told Outsports. "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."
It's a dramatic turnaround for Gordon, a sophomore starter who averaged 9.4 points and 3.5 rebounds a game for the Minutemen this season. Never feeling like he fit in with the rest of the team, Gordon isolated himself from the rest of the players.
"I've lived my life hiding behind somebody who I wasn't," he told ESPN. "I wasn't really that close to anybody on this team because there was something I had to hide. So I distanced myself as soon as I got here, and nobody knew why I was doing that."
Gordon even considered quitting the sport he says saved him from the dangers of growing up in a "bad neighborhood."
"That was probably the lowest point I was ever at," he said. "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. Nobody should ever feel that way."
But then Gordon started noticing a changing environment around sports, as players like NBA veteran Jason Collins and NFL prospect Michael Sam came out publicly. He also found a group of mentors who provided encouragement.
After waiting for another Division I basketball player to step up and be the first to openly acknowledge his homosexuality, Gordon decided maybe he should be the one.
"I was thinking about summer plans and just being around my teammates and how it was going to be," Gordon said. "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.' "
After telling his parents and Coach Derek Kellogg late last month, he called a meeting to deliver the news to his teammates on April 2, two weeks after their season ended. According to ESPN, Gordon received nothing but support from the other players.
"It ended up being kind of a short meeting," Kellogg said with a laugh. "The guys were like, 'We're behind you 100%. We cool?' "
Gordon said: "I'm just so happy and excited to finally put this out there. And I'm interested in seeing the support I get from different states when I go play in those other arenas. Hopefully I'll finally see a gay flag in the stands, which I've never seen before. It's going to be interesting. It is."