Taking the lead from Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers, Jallen Messersmith appears to have become the first active college basketball player to come out as gay. The Benedictine College Ravens forward has revealed how he overcame bullying so intense he had to be home-schooled but is now comfortable enough with his sexual orientation that he introduces male dates to his adoring teammates.
Although Messersmith has received support from his Mormon family, he left the church in which he was raised, recalling church leaders constantly disparaging gay people during his years in it.
“Going to church, all I heard was ‘this is bad, this is bad, this is bad,'” Messersmith said. “When I heard stuff like that, all I did was try to get away from it.”
What Messersmith had trouble escaping was the relentless bullying he was subjected to as a pre-teen.
“Growing up, I was always picked on,” he revealed. “I seldom had a guy friend growing up. I was lonely and didn’t have any super-close friends. Some days I would go to my room and just cry about it. It was something I kept to myself.”
Eventually, his mother learned about the abuse. She home-schooled her son for two years until he entered high school. Unlike many gay teens, who flee from homophobic locker rooms for more individual sports, Messersmith sought refuge in team sports.
“The people making fun of me pushed me into basketball further and made me want to be the best at basketball and get somewhere with myself,” he said. “After my sophomore year, I didn’t care what people thought. I grew stronger because of it and it rolls off my back now.”
As a shot blocking and rebounding force for Benedictine College, a liberal arts Catholic school in Atchison, Kansas, Messersmith has helped lead the Ravens to an 18-12 record, ranking it fourth in his division.
Messersmith says he now feels comfortable introducing his boyfriends to his fellow Ravens.
“I would hug them and then I would get grilled by my teammates after,” Messersmith said. “We would have locker room conversations and they would talk to me about guys just like they would talk about girls to each other.”
Apart from some good-natured ribbing from his fellow players, Messersmith joked that they might be even be a bit jealous of his “scoring” off the court, adding: “I’ve definitely gone on more dates than most of the guys combined.”