UMass men’s basketball player Derrick Gordon comes out as gay

By Patrick Strohecker

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian
Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

On Sunday, March 30, Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg received a phone call from sophomore shooting guard Derrick Gordon.

On the other end was a trembling Gordon, who had a big secret to let out: he was gay.

“He called me late Sunday night and said he had met with his parents,” Kellogg said. “And he sounded kind of nervous. He was stumbling on the phone some and I said, ‘listen, just tell me what’s going on. You can tell me anything, you don’t have to beat around the bush,’ and he came out and said ‘I’m gay, coach.’”

Three days later, on April 2, Kellogg called a team meeting for Gordon to address the rest of the team. The result was Kellogg showing his support for Gordon by breaking the ice to his team.

“I said, ‘I want to make an important announcement to you guys. Just want to let you know that I’m gay,’” Kellogg said. “(The team) knows me, they’ve been to my house, hung out with my wife and my son and thought it was kind of funny … he kind of broke the ice and (Gordon) said, ‘you know coach ain’t (gay), but I am.’”

With the announcement, Gordon becomes the first openly gay athlete in men’s Division I basketball, coming out just two months after former Missouri football player Michael Sam came out as gay months before the NFL Draft.

Gordon sat down with Outsports’ Cyd Zeigler and ESPN’s Kate Fagan to tell his story, which both became public on Wednesday morning. Gordon said he felt like he was hiding something and that “he didn’t want to hide it anymore,” in the interview with Fagan.

With immense support from fellow gay athlete Jason Collins – who became the first openly gay athlete to play in the NBA when he signed with the Brooklyn Nets in February – and Wade Davis, Gordon finally worked up the courage to tell his family.

Gordon said his brother Darryl, who is currently serving four years in jail for shooting a man in the chest, took the news the hardest. The brothers have a very strong bond and Gordon, who’s always been open about doing everything in life for his brother, told him that it wasn’t his fault and it could’ve just as easily been him.

“I had to have a good, long talk with him to let him know that it wasn’t his fault,” Gordon said. “This is who I am and I told him too, it’s not like I woke up one day and said ‘OK, I’m gay.’ You can’t do that. Just support me for who I am and he got it. It took him longer than my father did.

“Well you tell people these types of things, you can’t just expect them to understand right away and know right away.”

Despite the fact that it took his family some time to understand the news that Gordon revealed to them, his teammates all supported him. In fact, they knew something was bothering him throughout the season because Gordon tended to go off on his own and, at times, didn’t seem part of the team.

“This past year, he got a lot more isolated,” sophomore Tyler Bergantino said. “You could tell that there was something bothering him. Wasn’t really quite like himself like how I saw him the year before. You could tell there was like a fog about him.”

But Gordon is in the right place to come out. Massachusetts is widely considered one of the most liberal and progressive states in the country, with UMass living up to that billing. There is a huge LGBT support system on campus, which can make it easier for a person like Gordon, who is constantly in the public eye, to come out and know that he has a strong support group.

“In a lot of schools, even if it’s a really progressive school, sometimes the athletic department is not so progressive,” Pat Griffin said, who focuses on LGBT issues in sports and is a UMass professor emeritus. “That’s the anomaly in the college campus. I don’t think that’s the case here, as evidenced by the great supportive response that he’s getting from the athletic department.”

It’s been hard for Gordon to pick the exact time to come out as gay. He was nearly outed last summer when a photo of him standing outside a gay bar with his then-boyfriend surfaced. Members of the Minutemen caught sight of it and began harassing him and questioning his sexuality.

Gordon denied those accusations at first, always saying that he was straight. But he was lying to himself. He was pretending to be something that he truly wasn’t.

Still, Gordon went out and continued to play the sport he grew up loving and at an extremely high level. He was a major contributor to getting UMass back to the NCAA Tournament, all the while keeping this secret in the back of his mind.

The idea for him to wait to reveal this news to his team until after the season ended “says a great deal about the young man,” according to UMass Athletic Director John McCutcheon.

“That he didn’t just think about himself. He thought about his teammates. He thought about the coaches. He thought about the program in conjunction and really thought through the timing of when would be the right time to do this and knowing that he has to do what’s in his best interest, as well,” he said.

With this announcement, Gordon will forever be linked to the likes of Collins and Sam. He’ll be a role model for not just gay athletes, but for the gay community as a whole, as someone who did what he knew was right.

“It’s a scary situation,” he said. “Just to have to tell your parents and everything and shaking. I’ve never shaken like that in my life and just to be shaking the way I did, I came to realize that it’s not an easy topic to discuss, so to be in the mix with (Collins and Sam), hopefully it’s not just us three. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more people, it’s just a matter of time.”

It is just a matter of time for the next gay athlete to come out and it’s also a matter of time until this type of announcement is seen as normal.

“That’s going to take time,” Gordon said. “In certain places in our society, it’s just not acceptable. It shouldn’t matter at the end of the day.”

The process hasn’t been easy for Gordon and there will only be more hurdles to jump over, not just for him, but for the entire UMass team. Bergantino, who was Gordon’s roommate, is fearful for what’s going to be said by “keyboard warriors,” who will hide behind their computer screens and criticize him for being who he is.

And then there are the road games next season that will surely bring out remarks about his sexuality.

But for Gordon, he’s not worried about those moments. He’ll deal with them when they happen. As for right now, it feels like the weight of the world has been lifted off his shoulders.

“I couldn’t be more happier in my 22 years of living,” he said. “Just hiding something that I’ve been hiding for the longest time, it’s like I’m taking my mask off.”

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.