Just over a year ago I sat in the men's basketball locker room on the UMass campus as Derrick Gordon revealed to his teammates that he's gay. The UMass community embraced him, and he became the first publicly out active Division I mens basketball player.
As it transpired I believed it was a huge moment for the LGBT sports community. Yet that moment has now been trumped by Derrick transferring and accepting a scholarship to Seton Hall.
Since the 2014 NFL Draft, many have discussed why Michael Sam is not on NFL active roster. Many claim he is just not good enough while others say it's because of his sexuality. The later has affected kids throughout the high school and college ranks. Somewhere a young athlete (and probably many) was ready to come out of the closet after Michael's announcement. Then the draft hit, then he got cut from the Rams and eventually the Cowboys' practice squad. Questions were asked: Is it worth it to be authentic at the cost of not being able to pursue your sports dreams? I believe the NFL's treatment of Michael Sam has kept many in the closet.
Gordon's arrival in East Orange, N.J., gives many young LGBT athletes hope for many different reasons. Seton Hall is Catholic institution that does not have a great track record on LGBT issues. However, Derrick has said that he feels completely comfortable after meeting with the staff, players and administration. That alone is a statement.
Coming out on a team that is already family is very different from assimilating into a new squad. New relationships must be built, yet several players, including Isaiah Whitehead, a 2014 McDonald's All-American and one of the most coveted recruits in the country, welcomed Derrick into the family on Twitter:
Welcome To The Fam @flash2gordon Lets Have A Great Year #SHBB #SHUnited— Isaiah Whitehead (@IsaiahW_15) May 17, 2015
Ultimately, Seton Hall has said that the risk-reward of taking an open LGBT athlete is worth it. The media attention that comes with it, dealing with the naysayers who will claim being gay is a sin, are all worth it because Derrick will help the Pirates win more games next season. That is the reason schools recruits athletes: to help them win.
The best part of the story will not directly include Derrick. It will be the closeted athletes who use Derrick as an inspiration. Seeing a school and team welcoming Gordon with open arms is powerful. Others will no longer be afraid of coming out.
In some ways Derrick Gordon gets to have a second coming-out party. An entire new group of people will be educated on how LGBT folks aren't different from them. I'm hoping the acceptance of Seton Hall, more wins and maybe an NCAA tournament berth, will lead to more athletes joining the party, 'cause the party is amazing.