Republished from the Columbia Missourian
COLUMBIA — Wednesday marked the first time a Division I men’s basketball player came out as openly gay. University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon made the announcement to ESPN and Outsports.
Wednesday was also the first time diver Greg DeStephen, Missouri’s first openly gay athlete, returned to Columbia since Michael Sam’s coming out put him in the news.
DeStephen spoke on a LGBTQ Alumni Panel on Wednesday evening as part of Pride Month. The All-American came out in 2008. His story gained national publicity in February after the Missourian published a profile of him days afterSam’s announcement.
DeStephen spoke Wednesday about the struggles he experienced after being outed by another member of the Missouri swimming and diving team. He hopes that being a public face can help other athletes struggling to publicly embrace their sexuality.
“My hope is that my reaching out to the gay community and athletes specifically helps somebody who’s younger, who’s in the closet in the incredibly masculine atmosphere of being an athlete,” DeStephen said.
DeStephen said that while the older swimmers did not want to initially interact with him after he was outed, the atmosphere improved during his time at Missouri. He also believes the environment in the sports community has improved drastically in the past decade.
After Sam’s announcement, Jason Collins became the first openly gay NBA athlete to play a game.
“When I saw the reaction to Michael Sam coming out … all the media support was immense,” DeStephen said. “It was not only surprising, but it was awesome to see that the sports world is moving in that direction. Because thinking about four or five years ago, that would not have been the case.”
DeStephen now works as a college recruiter for Ernst & Young in Dallas. He said the corporate world has also become more open.
“My whole (Ernst & Young) team knew I was coming down here to do this panel and speak on these issues, and yesterday, when I was leaving, they left me a good-luck card on my desk saying how proud they were of me,” he said. “Just thinking back 10 years ago to what you would think the corporate world would be like, I think it’s changed leaps and bounds.”
The four-person panel spoke about the difficult situations they had endured at Missouri as members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. Stories of insensitivity and harassment shed light on a city that wasn’t always as open as the one that generally embraced Sam’s announcement in February.
“But now, I just can’t believe it. I mean, look at you. Look at you! It’s wonderful. We would have never seen anything like this in an alumni center,” panelist Pam Cooper said. “We’re very open now.”
DeStephen, who had never been a part of such a panel before, said he didn’t take advantage of MU’s LGBTQ resources, though he was aware of them. However, he believes they could be helpful to Missouri athletes.
“I trained 25 hours a week and was in school, as well, so it wasn’t the first thing on my mind to go (to the LGBTQ center). I think it’s a big opportunity for the center to reach out to the athletic department and have a dialogue and really be able to talk to student athletes who are afraid to come out.”