On Wednesday, University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon became the first-ever Division I male basketball player to publicly come out as gay.
And while messages of support—from tweets to television spots—will likely continue rolling in over the coming days and weeks, Brown can safely count in his corner a former high school teammate: Charlotte Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Kidd-Gilchrist had this to say about Gordon in a release (via the Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell):
Derrick was a great teammate and is an even better friend. I admire his courage and willingness to share his story. Just as we supported each other on the court, I am proud to support him now. He is a basketball player, a teammate and a friend, and that’s all that matters.
Irving also chimed in with support for Gordon, via Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal.
“I’m proud of him,” Irving said. “It’s a big step, not only in his life but in his career to get the weight of the world off his shoulders...I’m proud of Derrick and I’m proud of Jason Collins. It’s a big step for everybody and every generation.”
In February, former University of Missouri linebacker Michael Sam made his own historic announcement, just two months before the NFL Draft.
Not surprisingly, in an interview with ESPN, Gordon cited the Collins story as his biggest inspiration.
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.
That’s not to say Gordon’s decision was an easy one. For proof, one need read no further than this story by OutSports.com’s Cyd Zeigler in which Gordon details the difficult, awkward circumstances of his brief college career (h/t to Pro Basketball Talk's Dan Feldman).
When Gordon eventually confronted his team – again asserting he was straight and demanding they stop harassing him – the teasing slowed. Yet the damage was already done. Throughout the season – all the way into the NCAA tournament last month – some teammates continued to wait until Gordon was done in the locker room before they would venture into the showers. The “gay” label lingered. The treatment built distance between him and the rest of the team.
Gordon, a junior who averaged 9.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 steals in helping lead UMass to the NCAA tournament, isn’t likely to be an NBA prospect by this time next year.
Whatever his post-college prospects, Gordon will most certainly continue having a profound impact off the basketball court.
Indeed, one short year after Collins’ groundbreaking act, statements of support from Kidd-Gilchrist and others prove that when it comes to fostering genuine cultural change, courage and acceptance often feed off one another.