Today, I’d like to talk to everyone about homophobia. It’s an ugly and terrible thing that still manages to exist, despite the United States taking a myriad number of steps forward to combat it, and it’s becoming incredibly prevalent in the sports world, both on the collegiate and professional level.
In the most recent instance, it has surrounded former UMass Minutemen guard Derrick Gordon, an openly gay basketball player who was formerly a three-star recruit out of St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
You see, Gordon yesterday told Scott Gleeson of USA Today that he would be graduating from UMass and transferring to Seton Hall University for his final year of eligibility, and that he had encountered homophobia from other schools as he decided where he would play next.
“During the recruiting process, a number of schools didn’t want me because I’m gay,” Gordon said. “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.’ “
His choice of a Roman Catholic school in Seton Hall suddenly becomes all the more interesting, as popular campus priest Rev. Warren Hall was recently fired for coming out in support of a campaign for LGBT equality, but let’s get back to Gordon’s story itself.
Now granted, it’s not as though Gordon is a former five-star player who was in high demand to begin with. He only averaged 9.6 points on 44 percent shooting in two years at UMass (with whom he claims he wasn’t happy with his role on the team, no homophobia involved), and averaged 11.8 points on 36.7 percent shooting in a season with Western Kentucky as well.
Long story short, it’s not as though he was a highly in-demand transfer from the get go.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that in the past few years, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a homophobia problem in sports, and I’m not OK with it. I was a high school athlete, and I had teammates or knew friends of such who I later found out were gay. One of my best friends in the world is gay. I have had gay co-workers. Two of mine and my fiancé’s dearest friends are a married lesbian couple, and they are two of the most wonderful people anyone will ever meet.
Most important of all, as long as I have known or have associated with these people, not once did they come onto me or try to turn me homosexual, as many ignorant folk will say about them.
The fact of the matter is that we have enough homophobia in this world as it is, and the fact that it has expanded into the sports world, where we go to escape from our daily struggles and stresses, is not right. Former Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Michael Sam registered 18.5 sacks and was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year his senior season, yet wasn’t picked until the near-end of the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Even worse is that Sam did well for the Rams in the preseason despite being a bit on the smaller side, but was still cut at the end of training camp in favor of undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks, who played at a Division II program in West Texas A&M and only registered five tackles last season.
The Rams cited their reasons for the decision as Westbrooks’ ability to play all four positions on the defensive line, while Sam could only play left defensive end.
Today, Westbrooks is still on the Rams’ roster, and Sam is a free agent after a short stint on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad last season.
Granted, the Rams have not flat out said that Sam was cut because of his sexual orientation. To do so would create a PR nightmare from which the team would likely never recover, at least not for a good long time. But when you see lesser players getting more attention than Sam despite the fact that he has shown that he can play and keep up on the professional level, it’s hard to not put two and two together despite the lack of definitive proof.
And that brings us back to Derrick Gordon, who despite being talented and having shown an ability to keep up with some of the top talent in the country is now heading to a university that, despite having a bright basketball future, has been outspoken in its criticism of LGBT rights.
Though he’s certainly not the best player out there, one would think that his determination and athleticism would be enough for elite programs in immediate need of a strong guard to take a flier on him.
Instead, Gordon will now go from a program in which he was unhappy with his role to one where he’ll likely get significant playing time, but for a university that does not support who he is.
I am here to say this: homophobia has no place in the sports world and shouldn’t have one in general. Unless we all take a stand to combat it, the talent of players like Gordon, Sam and what I’m sure are a countless number of others will go wasted.
At that point, sports will have lost all sense of what it’s really about: acceptance, brotherhood, and camaraderie.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports