Jallen Messersmith, a junior forward for Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he is gay. The 20-year-old is believed to be the first openly gay player in U.S. men’s college basketball.
Messersmith said he told his coach his sexual orientation last summer and gave an in-depth interview to Outsports.com about his experience.
"When I came out, there was nobody in my sport I could" relate to, Messersmith said describing his intentions for coming out. "I always wanted to put it out there, and I had a great experience with it, and I wanted to show people it could be fine."
Messersmith said he applauds NBA player Jason Collins for coming out a month ago, but that wasn’t the reason behind sharing his sexual orientation.
"He wasn't a buffer for me," Messersmith told KCTV 5. He added that the majority of the 2,000 students at Benedictine College knew he was gay months ago.
Messersmith says his teammates have been supportive, asking about his dates in the locker room. But occasionally a homophobic slur will slip. His friend and teammate, Brett Fisher, apologized almost immediately after he accidentally made an insensitive comment.
"It wasn't directed at him. Jallen knows that I wouldn't stoop down that low,” Fisher told USA Today. "We're on the same team, he's basically like a family member. I told him if anyone has something (negative) to say, we've got his back."
The 6-foot-7 player hails from Missouri. He grew up Mormon and was homeschooled after he was bullied relentlessly.
"My mom had told me all growing up that if for some reason somebody was gay, they would support them. But going to church, all I heard was 'this is bad, this is bad, this is bad.' When I heard stuff like that, all I did was try to get away from it," he told Outsports.com.
Messersmith said he “felt different” in high school and decided to come out after one of his teammates died in a car accident, USA Today reports.
"I didn't want something that was such a big part of me to be hidden," he said. "I started telling my friends. Then I told my parents, who were 100 percent supportive. Then I told my coaches. Each time I told someone, a little weight was lifted off my shoulders. Once I told my teammates and they were supportive, I didn't care who found out. I didn't want it to affect the team chemistry. Nothing's changed between us, and now I can truly be myself."