It may not have been the way Derrick Gordon might have seen his college career playing out, but as the first openly gay Division I men's basketball player, the University of Massachusetts guard said he's now ready to be a torch bearer.
"I'm ready for it," Gordon said of his new status. "I'm ready to carry that torch and hopefully, more torches will be carried behind me after this is done."
Gordon, head coach Derek Kellogg and UMass officials met with reporters in Amherst on Wednesday to talk about Gordon's decision to come out as a gay man. He initially came out to his teammates and coaching staff last week on the heels of the Minutemen's trip to the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
"Just being able to finally have everything lifted off my shoulders and I can finally be who I want to be and live my life happy," Gordon said in an interview with The Eagle. "It's great. Now I can concentrate more on basketball and I don't have to worry about something sitting inside of me and hiding for four years."
Gordon, who just finished his first season playing for Kellogg's Minutemen, said that when he finally told his coaches and teammates, he said he was a bit surprised that they all knew. He said that he was more surprised that his coaches knew than he was that his teammates knew.
"I immediately went into father/coach mode and told DG 'We're here for you,' " Kellogg said, when asked for his thoughts after Gordon came out to him and the team. "I applauded him for his courage to be able to do this. It's something that's not easy to do. I give him credit for being able to do this."
Gordon also made his news known via social media Wednesday morning. His Twitter profile photo now shows him in a t-shirt emblazoned with the hashtag "#BETRUE," and a tweet posted around 10 a.m. read, "This is the happiest I have ever been in my 22 Years of living...No more HIDING!!!...Just want to live "
This is the happiest I have ever been in my 22 Years of living...No more HIDING!!!...Just want to live http://t.co/rR9KO8nGCu— Derrick Gordon (@flash2gordon) April 9, 2014
His team showed its support via social media, too.
"I support DG, it takes a lot of courage to come out publicly with something as sensitive as this," UMass center Cady LaLanne tweeted Wednesday morning. "On the behalf of me and my teammates we have your back #brotherhood"
Gordon, who made his UMass debut this year, started all 33 games for Kellogg's 24-9 Minutemen. The 6-foot-3 redshirt sophomore, who transferred from Western Kentucky, was UMass' No. 4 scorer (9.4 points per game) and he was second on the team in steals (48). With the graduation of Chaz Williams and Sampson Carter, Gordon moves up to No. 2 on the returning scoring list and No. 1 in steals.
All of that pales in comparison to what many on Twitter and around the nation are calling an act of courage.
"Many congratulations to you Derrick Gordon @flash2gordon - you have so many in your corner and we're all proud and rooting for you. #courage," is what Missouri defensive end and NFL prospect Michael Sam, who came out on Feb. 9, wrote on Twitter.
Of everything that has transpired in the hours since Gordon's story went public, the New Jersey native said the biggest surprise has been the fact that he went from a starting guard in the Atlantic 10 Conference to a national sensation.
"I'm surprised by how big of a deal it is. I was trending on Twitter. People were sending me text messages left and right, Facebook and all the social media stuff," he said. "I wasn't expecting all that. All that has just been crazy."
Kellogg said that it's still a little early to think about how Gordon's announcement will impact the upcoming season.
"Obviously, I think about a lot of things, like the media coming in to the early practices or seeing us on the road," the coach said. "We'll deal with that. We've dealt with other circumstances and situations here.
"It'll just be something that's new, something that hasn't been dealt with before. The one thing is, maybe we can help someone else get through a similar situation."