Kentucky high school basketball player Dalton Maldonado already wasn’t having the greatest day — his Betsy Layne High School team had just suffered a harsh defeat during a tournament. But he never could have anticipated the string of events that would come next.
As the players lined up to shake hands, he heard someone on the opposing team clearly say to him “Hey No. 3, I hear you’re a faggot.”
This kind of slur isn’t anything unusual among teenagers, but Dalton was already struggling with his sexuality. He’d told a few of his teammates he was gay, and just that week he’d come out to his parents. The comment pierced him, and he noticed many pairs of eyes fixed on him waiting for a response.
“Yeah baby, can I have your number?” he sharply shot back. “Put up a strong front,” he told himself. “Don’t let them know they hurt you.”
Once he was back in the locker room, though, his strong exterior gave way to the well of emotion. He broke down crying, and after his teammates tried to console him, told them, “I’m gay, I’m gay, okay?”
He hadn’t intended to come out this way, but the genie was out of the bottle. And while his team stepped up to offer support, an entirely different situation awaited him outside.
As Dalton’s team boarded the bus, the opposing team shouted “faggot,” egging him to come out and face them. Several players even followed the bus as it made its way back to the hotel — something his coach and tournament officials didn’t take lightly.
The team’s floor on their hotel was put on lockdown, but Dalton chose to finish out the tournament.
“If we would’ve went home it would’ve looked like I was ashamed of who I am, and I’m not ashamed of who I am. I can stand up for myself, and I had my teammates and coaches by my side. I knew we would be okay. God wouldn’t let anything happen to us. We had come three hours to a tournament and we were finally playing as a team and coming together,” he told Outsports.
They finished the tournament with police escorts, and Dalton felt it was important to share his story to help others in the same position.
“I feel like this can help other young athletes, help them come out. My freshman year I didn’t think I would ever come out. Now here I am telling the world.”