Senior Guard Prepares to Make History as First Openly Gay Player in March MadnessÂ
Ahead of his history-making appearance in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament on Thursday night, Seton Hall University guard Derrick Gordon said he came out in 2014 because a lot of LGBT youth were killing themselves or quitting sports because they didn't feel they fit in.Â
"So, hopefully me coming out could help them out in many ways," Gordon told reporters Wednesday in the locker room at the Pepsi Center in Denver, where the fifth-seeded Pirates will take on 12th-seeded Xavier the first round. "Looking at me playing at a top Division I school and being in the NCAA tournament, they could be like, â€˜OK, if he can do it, I can do it.'"
Gordon, who will be the first out player to appear in what is known as March Madness, has downplayed his sexual orientation this year, declining interviews with reporters who want to focus on it.
"It's always going to be a story until somebody else does it. I'm the only one right now in college basketball. I really don't mind," Gordon said Wednesday, according to The Denver Post. "I just hope one day when somebody else comes out that it's not as big of a deal as when I came out. It's 2016, my teammates are the perfect example that it's all about basketball with us.
"You would think since these guys are freshmen and sophomores that they really wouldn't understand, but that's not the case," he added. "They accepted me for who I was, and it made things a lot easier."
Westboro Baptist Church, the anti-LGBT hate group from Kansas, said it plans to protest the NCAA tournament in response to Gordon's appearance.Â
In an interview with TMZ, NBA hall-of-famer Charles Barkley ripped into WBC, saying Gordon should just ignore them because "there's always gonna be haters." Â
â€œI hate them sumbâ€”-es,â€ Barkley said. â€œIt wonâ€™t affect the Tournament â€¦ but theyâ€™re awful people. They act like theyâ€™re religious, but theyâ€™re awful people. If we get lucky, hopefully somebody will beat the hell of them.â€
Seton Hall has a legitimate chance to advance to the Final Four in Houston, where of course voters recently repealed an ordinance banning discrimination against LGBT people. But if the Pirates go deep into the tournament, and Gordon plays a big role, it would be a huge moment in LGBT sports history.Â
Gordon is Seton Hall's sixth man, meaning he's typically the first substitute to enter the game. This year, he averaged 23.6 minutes and 7.9 points per game. But perhaps more importantly, as a 24-year-old graduate student and the only senior on the roster, Gordon is Seton Hall's emotional leader.Â
â€œHeâ€™s so mature,â€ Pirates coach Kevin Willard toldÂ Fox SportsÂ after Seton Hall defeated top-ranked Villanova in Saturday's Big East Championship. â€œHeâ€™s been through a lot and heâ€™s matured a lot. Heâ€™s really a calming presence for a group that is at times extremely emotional. He has been through it. This is his third NCAA tournament. It just kind of tells you what type of player and more importantly what type of person he is.â€
Gordon is also the first player to appear in the tournament for three different programs, having started his career at Western Kentucky before transferring to UMass, then Seton Hall. But this marks the first time heâ€™ll do it since coming out.Â
Wade Davis, theÂ gay former pro football player who serves as executive director of the You Can Play Foundation, told The Denver Post that Gordon's story debunks myths about both athletes and African-Americans being more homophobic than the general population.Â
"If you juxtapose Derrick's story and Michael Sam's story, you have one that's a wonderful success of happiness and joy and you have another that you don't really know what happened," Davis said. "With Derrick's story, you can watch him on Instagram and see him recording a video of him and his teammates dancing. They're really experiencing love and joy in a way that most of us that play sports want to experience it, absent of our sexual orientation."Â
Images viaÂ Derrick Gordon/Facebook