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The Coming out story of Dalton Maldonado, the high school basketball player from Kentucky was a reminder that sports may not always be the place for gay athletes. First, he was harassed by a rival high school team and then his picture was left out of his high school basket page last year. That must have been devastating!
But the coming out of Derrick Gordon when he was playing basketball for UMASS (University of Massachusetts) in 2013 kind of changed the view that many people had about gay athletes.
He shifted the conversation, pretty much, from, ‘Is he going to be another distraction?’ to ‘how far can he actually go?’ Today he is the first openly gay athlete to be playing in the NCAA tournament.
At first, I was a little worried for him… Michael Sam had only come out a few weeks before; he was then drafted for the NFL as the first openly gay player but just a few months down the road, before he was even able to play his first game, he was cut by two teams.
That wasn’t good news for any openly gay player who felt inspired by Sam’s coming out story and I felt the frustration too, because I like many people were rooting for him to do well.
Nonetheless, he got booted from the NFL… he tried to make up for his career in Canada when he joined the CFL but just a few weeks later he announced that he was ‘quitting professional football’. His justification at the end of the day was that the NFL didn’t take him because he was gay.
Those were dim days for gay athletes and gay sports fans. At one point, I was convinced that gay male players, especially black players were not welcome in sports.
When I started high school, I did tracks and I eventually quit, and one of the reasons was because I never really felt that it was the place to be. I was a little fearful maybe.
But I have watched athletes likes Jason Collins, Brittney Griner, Darren Young, Abby Wambach, Robbie Rogers and Gus Kenworthy make history and you never want to see another gay player be treated like an outcast in the real world. There aren’t many gay athletes, but the few that exist, automatically become role models and life savers, whose stories speaks to an entire community.
Gay players help to set standard for how some people see the gay community. Things are probably changing before our eyes… it’s hard to ignore the strength and weakness of gay players… the traumatic experience of coming out to the people who have always been in your life: your family, your coach, your teammates… the anxiety?!
At the same time, there is much to celebrate when any gay player simply gets ‘to play’. Regardless of how Gordon performs in the NCAA this week, he has already made history; he has paved the way for athletes like Dalton Maldonado and he has done what many probably had not imagined before or at least not this soon.
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