Pro Basketball Player Derrick Gordon: Building Safe Spaces

In 2014, Derrick Gordon made history as the first ever active out gay man to play NCAA Division 1 basketball. Since then, he’s gone on to play professionally around the world and is currently playing for Römerstrom Gladiators Trier in Germany. Derrick is dedicated to using his platform to help pave the way forward for LGBTQI+ athletes to come, and we’re thrilled to welcome him aboard as an Athlete Ally Ambassador! Learn more about Derrick and why he’s excited to join the team.

Athlete Ally: What do you see as the barriers in sport that you had to navigate coming out as the first openly gay D1 athlete, and that prevented athletes before you from being able to come out?
Derrick: A barrier that I went through at UMass before I transferred to Seton Hall was getting comfortable being around my teammates, knowing that I got picked on and teased before. That was the hardest for me because I didn’t care if they didn’t like me, I just wanted them to respect me for who I am. I’ve been in plenty of locker rooms, so I know the talk that goes around: teammates talking about girls, hearing a homophobic word being said, etc. It’s just going to push that person deeper into the closet because they feel that they won’t be accepted.

What does a safe space in college athletics look like, or what could that look like?
My ideal safe space was when I was at Seton Hall for my last season and how my teammates welcomed me with open arms and respected me for who I am. They didn’t treat me any different from anyone else and that’s what I wanted. My sexuality doesn’t change who I am as a person.

Photo by Simon Engelbert

What roles can coaches and allied athletes play in helping to create inclusive environments for their LGBTQI+ players and teammates?
What I feel coaches and allied athletes can do is something similar to what my former coach at Seton Hall Coach Willard did, which was made sure that I would be safe here and that I didn’t have anything to worry about. I knew I could go and talk to him about anything, and he was very supportive. I feel that’s how coaches and allied athletes should be. Just show that person it’s ok and that they have your full support. It makes things a lot easier when someone is struggling.

Two UMass schools (Amherst and Lowell) received perfect scores of 100 on the Athletic Equality Index ranking of LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices within athletic departments. As a UMass alum, does this surprise you? Why or why not?
As an Alum of UMass, I was kind of shocked a bit because a couple of my teammates there treated me very badly, to the point I didn’t feel comfortable being around them which led me to transfer to Seton Hall. But it sounds like things have gotten much better over the years.

Photo: Media Day BARMER 2. Basketball Bundesliga | Alexander Mihm

What advice would you give to college athletes who are scared to come out?
First thing I would say to that person is that I would never try to force you to come out, because that’s something you have to do when you’re ready. When I realized who I am, it took me 3 years to come out. But I would say, find that one person that you can trust, whether if that’s a friend, or someone at school. All it takes is telling that one person and you will feel the weight lifted off your shoulders. It’s a process and can be scary at times, but stay positive and know that you will be OK.

What excites you about becoming an Athlete Ally Ambassador?
Becoming an Athlete Ally ambassador is incredible – I’m truly thankful and grateful for the opportunity. My goal is all about helping people and changing the world, and if I can be that voice with others, that makes me very happy. 

Header photo by Simon Engelbert
Want to receive stories like this in your inbox? Sign up here.