On the eve of National Coming Out Day (this Friday), 22-year-old Derek Schell has become the first openly gay NCAA Division II basketball player. Earlier today, he published a moving essay about his coming out experience and the internal struggles he faced as a gay athlete at a conservative college on Outsports.com.
Throughout high school and his first year at college, Schell writes that he struggled to maintain a heterosexual facade for the sake of his academic and athletic careers:
“My friends, my parents, my sister, my teachers — everyone expected me to be an all-star, to help lead the basketball team to a state championship and to date a pretty girl,” he says. “I wanted people to accept me and to embrace me, so I let those expectations take control.”
As a result, Schell says he suffered many sleepless nights, anxiety, and even depression. His passion for basketball also began to diminish. “Who I was becoming contradicted who I thought I was supposed to become,” he says.
His second year of college, he decided to take a stand and make a change.
“The beginning of my sophomore year of college, the only way I felt comfortably being myself was online,” Schell says. “I met the person that I care for most in this world, my boyfriend Kevin. We have been together for two years. I began to realize that my life was my own. There was no more time for living in the hopes of pleasing others and living up to any one person’s or any societal expectation.”
After finding the courage he needed through online support systems and his boyfriend, the first people Schell came out to were his immediate family. After that, he came out to his close friends and classmates. And this past month, he finally came out to his coach and teammates.
“They all respected me and recognized that nothing had changed and I was the same teammate and friend that I was before,” Schell says. “Despite attending a conservative college, I have been accepted for who I am by those on my team and others close to me.”
Today, Schell says his passion for basketball has been restored and is at an “all-time high.”
“Sometimes the darkest times in life are only doorways to the best moments of your life, the ones you were meant to experience and live to see,” he says.
He concludes his essay by writing:
“You can be who you are and still be an athlete. You can do all the things you want to do and live a beautiful life that you’ve imagined for yourself. Find your peace of mind knowing you are giving your best self to the world. Be brave. Be love. But most of all, be you.”