Dear Derrick Gordon,
When I first met you it was almost two years ago to this day. Your UMass team had been a No. 6 seed having just lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Sometimes history has an unfortunate way of repeating itself.
I remember you talking about changing history. Changing basketball. Making your life more open, better. More true. Over the last two years you've done just that, and along the way you've made it so much easier for so many to do the same.
I want to bring you back to two years ago, a conversation you and I had in April 2014 just after you had told your team you are gay. When I asked you to describe how you felt finally being able to live your life openly, you struggled to find the words. When you found them, I typed it out at the time so I wouldn't lose it:
"Happy's not even the word right now, honestly," you said. "I don't know how to describe the feeling right now. 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."
I haven't felt like this ever. That's what you said. That's what you felt. You could finally breathe.
I don't know what your basketball legacy will be. Maybe you'll play professionally in Europe. Maybe your defensive skills will get you into the NBA some day. You showed flashes of brilliance this season. There were moments when you were the best player on the court. Hopefully this is not the end of the basketball road for you.
Either way, I want you to realize what you have done. I want you to understand the history you have made and the lives you have touched.
In the last year, you have never mentioned to me your being gay as an historic element to your story. Instead, you were always focused on basketball. Your sexual orientation, being so public and so proud, was a side story, not THE story, to you. When you signed with Seton Hall, it was the chance to elevate yourself and your new team that drew you to the Pirates. Others, including myself, focused on your sexual orientation. You did not.
Neither did your coach or teammates. They saw you as Derrick Gordon the man, a basketball player who had been to the NCAA tournament twice, someone who could bring some guidance and seniority to a team that desperately needed it. This team representing a Catholic university welcomed you and you welcomed the invitation. No questions asked.
By being the best No. 32 you could possibly be, you have made it so much easier for so many others to be themselves. Because of you, the next one will have a role model, a roadmap, a coach with resources at his fingertips and teammates who've watched two storied programs accept someone like him.
You have made it easier for all of them to breathe.
I don't know what the next few months hold for you. I hope to see you in a jersey for a professional basketball team, whether that's in Paris or Portland. Wherever your path leads, I hope you see the indelible mark you have left on college sports and the world. The fact that you were much more proud of being the first athlete to play for three tournament teams -- less than you were focused on being the first gay anything -- was such an incredible testament to who you are as an athlete and a person.
It was a testament to who gay athletes are.
Thank you, Derrick Gordon, for everything.