Junior forward Jallen Messersmith of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he is gay, making him the first U.S. men’s college basketball player to say he is gay while he is still playing.
Messersmith later gave a longer interview to Outsports.com and said he wanted to come out to help other gay athletes feel comfortable about who they are.
“When I started coming out, I didn’t have anyone to look to for advice or to see how their story went,” Messersmith said. “People can look to see what happened to me -- and there are positive things going on.”
Messersmith said he told his coach that he was gay last summer and told his teammates just before the season started. None of them were bothered by it, he said.
“He’s a very outgoing player, and if you need an example of a hustler, it’s him,” said Benedictine guard Brett Fisher. “He’s doing the dirty work for the team. He’s getting the blocks on defense, he’s getting every rebound. We like him on the team.”
Messersmith said he also has the support of his family.
Benedictine Athletic Director Charlie Gartenmayer and men’s basketball Coach Ryan Moody declined to comment, referring to a statement the school released Wednesday.
“We support Jallen as a Benedictine College student and as a member of the Raven basketball team,” the statement said. “Obviously, it would be inappropriate for us to discuss the private lives of students. As an institution we treat all students with respect and sensitivity.”
Benedictine finished 18-12 last season. Messersmith led the team in blocked shots, with 53, and averaged 4.9 points per game.
Messersmith said he hopes he can set an example for other young gay people.
“You’ve just got to be comfortable with yourself,” he said. “I wasn’t very comfortable with myself for a long time and then when I was, if you put off the confidence and you are 100% comfortable when you tell someone, they will support you. They can’t, as much as they can try, drag you down. It’s all about you. It’s what you think. If you are comfortable with yourself, you can do anything.”