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Coming Out as Gay, College Basketball Player Hopes to 'Give Kids Some Courage'

UMass-guard-Derrick-Gordon-400px.jpg

The gay community took another step forward in the sports world today as a University of Massachusetts student-athlete became the first Division I men's basketball player to come out, according to ESPN.com and Outsports.

Middle and high school student-athletes grappling with a similar decision can now look to Derrick Gordon, a sophomore guard for the UMass Minutemen, as inspiration.

"When kids aren't able to come out, I know why," Gordon told Outsports' Cyd Zeigler. "It's a scary thing. That's one of the reasons I'm doing this. I want to give kids some courage and someone they can look up to. If I can come out and play basketball, then why can't they do it? I want to be able to help those people."

No active male athlete in Division I college basketball, football, baseball or hockey has ever come out as gay publicly, according to Outsports. It wasn't an easy decision for Gordon, who grew more isolated from his teammates over the past year in order to hide his true identity.

"It was a rough process, actually, leading up to this," he told ESPN.com's Kate Fagan. "[My network of mentors] just helped me get to where I am right now. If it wasn't for them, I'd be stuck. For this to be happening right now, me coming out, it's an indescribable feeling, honestly. I couldn't be any happier. I feel like I can fly."

In a sit-down interview, Fagan asked Gordon how he reacted when NBA player Jason Collins came out in Sports Illustrated last spring. He was quick to heap praise on the 7-footer:

"When he came out, I wanted to come out the next day. It was a relief. I was like, 'about time.' Finally, it happened. But I still couldn't jump the gun, because he wasn't in the NBA at the time when he came out. But when he went back, that's when I started to build a little more confidence. I watched his—he was getting subbed into a game, and everybody stood up and started clapping. And I was visualizing myself as that being me, but for college."

The fears of Collins' sexual orientation being a "distraction" to the Brooklyn Nets, who signed him back in late February, never came to fruition. Since signing him, in fact, Brooklyn has gone 18-6, vaulting into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Now, just as Gordon used Collins for inspiration, youth athletes can use Gordon's experience to fuel their own decisions to come out, as Fagan suggested on Twitter:

Collins also praised Gordon's courage:

Earlier this year, Gordon nearly quit basketball. His teammates saw him "like" a photograph online of him and his then-boyfriend, and, within hours, began asking him if he was gay, Outsports says. The "snickers and snide remarks ... consumed him."

Since coming out to his teammates after the NCAA tournament, however, Gordon said he feels like a brand new man.

" 'Happy' is not even the word," Gordon told Outsports' Zeigler. "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."

After the news broke on Wednesday, he posted this picture on Instagram, with the following caption:

"This is the happiest I have ever been in my 22 Years of living...No more HIDING!!!...Just want to live life happy and play the sport that I love...Really would love to thank my family, friends, coaches, and teammates for supporting me....I would also like to thank my support team Wade Davis, Jason Collins, Brian Sims, Micah Porter, Anthony Nicodemo, Patrick Burke, Billy Bean, Gerald McCullough, Kirk Walker...You guys are AWESOME!!! Ready to get back in the gym with my teammates and get on the GRIND and get ready for next season!!!! #BETRUE#BEYOURSELF #HONEYBADGER"

Yes, plenty of middle and high school athletes have already come out to their teammates. But it's still not an easy decision for most by any means.

The reception for athletes like Gordon, Collins and Michael Sam, who have all three come out within the past 12 months, may be easing some of the fears of those who haven't yet felt comfortable to reveal their true selves to their teammates. That's worth celebrating.

Photo: UMass guard Derrick Gordon (2) works against Tennessee guard Josh Richardson (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball second-round tournament game in Raleigh last month. Gordon made the announcement that he is gay on ESPN on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, becoming the first openly gay player in Division I men's basketball. —Gerry Broome/AP-File

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