EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a first-person account from espnW writer and columnist Kate Fagan regarding today’s announcement by UMass guard Derrick Gordon that he is gay. Gordon is the first openly gay player in Division I men’s college basketball. Fagan’s story on Gordon can be found here and her interview with him is airing on SportsCenter throughout the day.
On March 31, I received a direct message on Twitter from Patrick Burke, the co-founder of the You Can Play Project. I’ve known Patrick for about a year; we met at the Nike LGBT Summit in June 2013. I had worked with him on a couple of columns, and had also spoken on numerous panels with Wade Davis, executive director of You Can Play and a former NFL player. (Side note: One of the best things about Patrick and Wade is that they always make a concerted effort to focus on everyone under the LGBT umbrella — not just gay male athletes, who tend to get a bigger spotlight.)
About a minute after seeing Patrick’s message, I was on the phone with him, and he told me his organization was working with a Division I men’s college basketball player. At the time, they weren’t yet ready to reveal the player’s identity, because they didn’t want to out him to more people than was necessary. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes an athlete will think he or she is ready to come out publicly, but then something happens to change his or her mind.
Patrick, Wade and You Can Play wanted to make sure Derrick Gordon of UMass had that option. Patrick told me You Can Play wanted me to write the story, along with Cyd Zeigler of OutSports, who has long covered LGBT issues in sports. So later that night, everyone involved was on an email chain introducing Derrick, who seemed thrilled to be stepping forward. We were off and running.
My editor at espnW, Joy Russo, advised me to loop in a small circle of people who could help us arrange a sit-down, on-camera interview with Derrick at UMass. David Kraft, executive editor of news operations for ESPN.com, provided expert guidance at every step along the way. (Whenever I sent an email asking him to call me, he was on the phone in about seven seconds.) On the night of April 2, a crew of three ESPN folks — producers Michael Allan, project leader Bowen Dou and myself — drove to Amherst, Mass. (about an hour from ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. headquarters) and filmed the interview with Derrick.
UMass wanted to release the story after the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball championship games. So of course there was plenty of concern the news wouldn’t hold for an entire week, that it would leak out somewhere along the way. In the end, we had to rely on human decency. We had to hope that even if some folks got wind of it, nobody in the media would move on a story without confirmation and approval from Derrick Gordon, who was the only real source for this information.
It was always Derrick’s story to tell. And I think all of us involved would agree that he is brave to share it.