“Don’t wait,” 22-year-old Derrick Gordon said emphatically when asked if he has advice for other college athletes thinking about coming out. The University of Massachusetts Amherst sophomore made headlines last week, becoming the first NCAA Division I basketball player to come out as gay.
“Take advantage of everything that you have in front of you,” he continued, offering advice to other young people, speaking with me on SiriusXM Progress. “Don’t wait because you’re scared. Don’t wait until you’re 35 or 40-years-old and done playing the sport that you love. Because it’s stressful to live that way. I cried most of the nights when I was in the closet just because it starts to take a toll on you just because you’re worried about how people are going to think about you and what they’re going to say about you. Take advantage of it now…It’s going to make your life so much easier.”
That doesn’t mean Gordon didn't strategize and plan. He was ready to come out earlier in the year but held off until after the season was over, so that he wouldn’t bring a distraction to the team. He’d carefully watched how coming out affected Jason Colllins, who became the first major league player to come out as gay last year and who was recently signed to the Brooklyn Nets.
“He had a big impact,” Gordon explained. “I was talking to him as well throughout the whole process. It was exciting when I heard he was going back into the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets. I was still unsure. They said he had like a five or ten day contract. And that didn’t really solidify my guarantee in coming out. So I waited and waited, and then eventually, he got a [longer term] contract, and I was like, “Boom!” When that happened, I was like, 'I’m coming out soon. I just don’t know when.' So after the NCAA tournament and everything, I thought it would be the best time to do it in off season.”
Gordon acknowledges, too, that if Collins' career had been harmed from coming out, he's not sure he would have come out himelf, underscoring how one public figure's coming out influences so many others.
"At the end of the day I do want to play in NBA," he said. "So if it didn’t work out for Jason, I’d probably still be in the closet. He played a big impact. And [NFL prospect] Michael Sam. Even though Michael Sam is in a different sport, seeing an athlete come out and be open about themselves, it gave me a lot of confidence, to be able to be myself, too, and not worry about what other people say."
Gordon said he's been blown away by the support of his parents, as well as that of his teammates and classmates at UMass, where the infamous Westboro Baptist Church attempted to protest his coming out on Wednesday.
"The Westboro Baptist Church came and tried to protest against me," he said. "And there were 3000 students outside the campus supporting me, and only five people from Westboro. And that just goes to show the people who support me and care for as a person. That's how life should be."
Right now in his life, it seems Derrick Gordon could not be more ecstatic.
"I want to be myself and be happy, but honestly my life has changed in the past two weeks tremendously in a good way," he explained. "And it's going to get even better as time goes on. I’m glad I did it now rather than later on in life and hopefully my life will make it better for other kids."