Derrick Gordon will play basketball at Seton Hall Univ. for the 2015-16 season. This is a big deal.
Gordon has been a guard at the Univ. of Massachusetts for the last two seasons where he had a 44% field goal percentage and averaged 9.6 points per game. He previously played for Western Kentucky.
But his biggest headlines popped when he came out publicly as gay last April. He was the first NCAA Division I basketball player to do so while he was still playing.
Yet this move might be bigger. It's one thing to have a player on a team come out as gay. The other players already know him, making it easier to accept any differences between them.
Now another school - Seton Hall - is opening its arms to an out gay player coming from another team. They didn't have to. And they weren't the only ones. Other men's college basketball teams had expressed an interest in Gordon, willing to ignore the noise about "distracting" gay athletes and the foolishness about gay men in the locker room.
Now Gordon will be taking the court in his second jersey as an openly gay man. Gordon is eligible to play this season as a graduate transfer, having graduated from UMass earlier this spring. This weekend Seton Hall lost graduate transfer Sterling Gibbs to the Univ. of Connecticut.
Derrick Gordon finds his freedom
UMass guard Derrick Gordon talks about being the first publicly out gay NCAA Division I men's basketball player.
Gordon's transfer to Seton Hall is also a fascinating development for the school itself. Seton Hall is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and is the oldest and largest Catholic university in New Jersey. As such, it has a poor record on LGBT issues. Just last week either the school or the Archdiocese fired campus priest Warren Hall allegedly for making pro-LGBT statements on social media. In 2011 the school was sued by gay student claiming discrimination. The school has also been sued for not allowing an LGBT group on campus. Though that dynamic may be shifting, as there seems to be some movement on the inclusion of an LGBT club.
Now the school is consciously opening its doors to the only active publicly out gay Division I men's basketball player ever.
This is progress.
It was getting a bit dicey for Gordon. He announced his intention to transfer seven weeks ago, and many started to wonder if any school would sign him. Was his sexual orientation a deterrent? Had he played his last game of college basketball because he came out publicly as gay? Had his appearances with LGBT-rights organizations like GLAAD, You Can Play and the LGBT Sports Coalition scared off all potential suitors?
Seton Hall has answered that question.
Ultimately, this had nothing to do with Gordon as a "gay athlete." The school chose to make a "basketball decision." Seton Hall could use the help. A strong program in the late Eighties and early Nineties, the men's basketball team has struggled in the Big East over the last decade. The team hasn't made it to the NCAA basketball tournament since 2006 and has won more than 20 games only once since 2004. The last time the Pirates were in the Sweet Sixteen, Gordon was in third grade.
As a starter, Gordon has helped both Western Kentucky and UMass get to the NCAA tournament.
It's another strong sign of a changing tide in sports. While Michael Sam is still not on an NFL team, he was picked up by the Dallas Cowboys after being released by the Rams last summer. Jason Collins was signed by the Brooklyn Nets after he came out publicly. Former professional rugby player Gareth Thomas was picked up by the Crusaders Rugby League in 2010 after he came out.
Yet the move by Seton Hall might be the most telling. Gordon is at the height of his basketball career, and the school needs him. Seton Hall is a Catholic school with an anti-LGBT history, and Gordon needs the school.
Let the honeymoon begin.
It's been a long recruiting process...But happy to say I will be going to Seton Hall University!!!...Can't wait to play for Coach Willard..— Derrick Gordon (@flash2gordon) May 17, 2015