What makes Derrick Gordon’s third NCAA tournament so historic?
Derrick Gordon has played in the NCAA tournament twice before, but not since announcing he is gay. When Seton Hall plays Gonzaga on Thursday, Gordon will become the first ever openly gay player to participate in March Madness.
Who is Derrick Gordon?
Gordon is a 24-year-old redshirt senior for the Pirates. He played his high school ball for St. Patrick’s in Elizabeth, N.J., where he played alongside former Kentucky star and current NBA player Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
He began his college career at Western Kentucky and played one season with the Hilltoppers before he transferred to UMass. Gordon earned his degree from UMass after playing there for two seasons and joined Seton Hall as a graduate transfer this season.
After starting every game last season for UMass, Gordon is a bench player for Seton Hall. In his final season with the Minutemen, the 6'3" guard averaged 9.8 points per game, fourth on the team and was also the team’s third-leading rebounder, with 4.9 per game.
In 23.6 minutes per game this season, Gordon averaged 7.9 points and 3.2 rebounds.
When he did he come out?
A month after playing with UMass in the 2014 NCAA tournament, Gordon told ESPN and Outsports that he is gay.
“I just didn’t want to hide anymore, in any way," Gordon said. “I didn’t want to have to lie or sneak. I've been waiting and watching for the last few months, wondering when a Division I player would come out, and finally I just said, ‘Why not me?’”
Did his sexuality play a part in his decision to leave UMass?
When Gordon announced last year that he would play his final season elsewhere, many speculated that he was transferring because his sexuality was an issue. Gordon told MassLive.com, though, that he was “very unhappy” with the role coach Derek Kellogg had him playing and hoped to improve his draft stock at a new school.
His sexuality did come up while he was searching for a new team, however.
“During the recruiting process, a number of schools didn't want me because I’m gay,” Gordon told USA Today when he transferred. “To me, that’s blatant homophobia. At the end of the day, no coaches will ever admit that they don't want me because I’m gay and there’s baggage that comes with the attention.
“Honestly, it caught me off-guard. It really hurt. It had me stressing, crying. I was starting to lose hope. I felt like I was being treated like an outsider, like I didn't belong in the NCAA. I couldn't believe it because I'm a good player and they were looking at the opposite — something that doesn't mean anything with my (sexuality). … ‘Nah, not the gay guy.’”
What do his new teammates think of him?
Not only has Seton Hall accepted Gordon, the team has embraced him. Though he has started just four games this season, the 23-year-old is Seton Hall’s only senior and has been praised for his leadership qualities.
“He’s so mature,” head coach Kevin Willard told FoxSports.com. “He’s been through a lot and he's matured a lot. He’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.”
“Everything he tells us is needed,” teammate Khadeen Carrington told the New York Post. “He keeps us in check.”
Where does he stand in the history of gay American athletes?
No other openly gay athlete has played on as large a stage as the NCAA tournament. Jason Collins played 22 games as a reserve center for the Nets in 2014 but did not appear in any games during Brooklyn’s two playoff series that year. Robbie Rogers, a professional soccer player for the Los Angeles Galaxy, was a starter on the team that won the 2014 MLS Cup.
Other openly gay athletes include Brewers minor leaguer David Denson and Princeton offensive lineman Mason Darrow.
Why should you be rooting for him?
Of course Gordon’s courage to be the first openly gay player in Division I is admirable, but that’s not the only reason you should pull for him. He’s also a pretty good player, and he tweets really cool videos of he and teammates celebrating after big wins.
Gordon and the Pirates are the No. 6 seed in the Midwest. If they beat Gonzaga on Thursday they’ll play the winner of Utah and Fresno State in the second round.