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Being OUT Can Help Your Game

Ian Watson's picture

UMass Minutemen's Best Player Derrick Gordon "freer" to play the game.

Photo: Steven G. Smith/For The Globe

An article from the Boston Globe on November 11, 2014, brings to light a very overlooked subject about LGBTQ players in sport; the impact being LGBTQ has on your game.

It's not that LGBTQ players aren't as good as their straight counterparts. Derrick Gordon (among many others) proves this as he was already the UMass Minutemen's star player berfore he came out.  But it's only natural to be impacted by the stressors of being closted.

Many LGBTQ players say that "on the court" or "on the field" or "in the pool" is the only place they feel at peace, but as we get more and more stories about athletes coming out, one trend holds true, their game gets better after they come out.

Most every one of us in the LGBTQ community have been there, fearful of what will happen if people were to find out about us.  We stay hidden away in the closet.  We are also all well too aware of the toll this takes.  The amount of energy that goes into staying hidden.  Not bonding with coworkers, friends, and teammates, but instead keeping a distance.  Feeling isolated, frustrated, miserable and confused.

“I was definitely in a hole, I would say, before I came out. I was struggling as far as what I wanted to do. And I was going to quit basketball. It was either I was going to quit or I was going to come out.’’
- Derrick Gordon

The same is true in our social life, work life, and romantic life as well as our sport life; This self-isolation and angst, as much as we try not to, holds us back from our full potential. Once one fully embraces that aspect of their life, the weight that was holding us back is lifted. 

“So after I came out, I mean, it was weight lifted off my shoulders, how happy I am, just smiling every day, just living life very happy."

But coming out still takes great courage.  Just because we accept ourselves doesn't mean others will.  Derrick Gordon was lucky.  His team was indicative of the slowly changing attitudes towards LGBTQ, and fully accepted him.  It was no big deal, in fact most said they already knew. 


But while his team, friends, and family support him, how will the fans, and the opposing teams treat him?  When we come out, we open ourselves up to rejection, persecution, and discrimination.  These can have just as negative an impact on our lives, and our games, as staying closeted, if not more-so.

This is where the rest of us come in.  We know that being "free" to be yourself allows athletes to compete to their full potential, improving the game of not just the players themselves, but their teammates and opponents as well, as they have to play up to standard and better themselves as well. 

So we need to create atmospheres where atheletes can come out.  Where they need not worry about the onslought of media attention, where trash-talking is kept at a sportsman-like level, not stooping to deraogatory and hurtful words.

This is where organizations like OutSport Toronto, You Can Play, Athete Allies, and Pride House TO are focusing their efforts.

But until that all happens, we support those who are out.  With support, it gives others the strength to "take it".  

The new-found freedom and support in Godon's life has given him the strength to ready himself for the slurs that will come his way; "You want to call me fag, I'll do one thing - I'll just smile."  Afterall, slurs lose their power when you have a community of support behind you.  If anything, they fire you up to play even better.

So Get Out And Play!

Derrick Gordan plays as a Junior Guard for the UMass Minutemen.  He's now the only OUT self-identified gay man in Division 1 NCAA basketball.

Inspired by article from The Boston Globe written by Kevin Paul Dupont.