The basketball team for a Catholic liberal arts college in the heartland of Kansas might not seem like the most welcoming place to be an openly gay athlete. But for 20-year-old Jallen Messersmith, who plays ball for Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., that's exactly where he found acceptance.
In a comprehensive profile at OutSports, Messersmith confirms that he's openly gay, making him the first male basketball player to come out while still playing college ball.
Messersmith was raised Mormon and was bullied so relentlessly in his adolescence that he was homeschooled, reports OutSports. But when the 6' 8", 215-pound forward began coming out to his coaches in the fall of 2012, and shortly thereafter to teammates, he was met with open arms, even if it wasn't what he expected.
"During the summer I was petrified to tell my teammates," he told OutSports. "I was scared to come back and I honestly didn't know what they were going to say. I was just scared and I didn't know what to do."
So Messersmith began by telling his coaches at the beginning of the fall semester. "They were there 100% for me," Messersmith said. "They said it would not make any difference in the way the team was run. And they wanted to make sure it wouldn't change my experience at the school. That was awesome. After that, I felt like I could do anything."
Any lingering nerves about being accepted by his teammates melted away when a fellow player insisted on getting all the juicy details from a date Messersmith had gone on the night before.
"'If I'm going to tell you specifics about what I did on my date, you're going to tell me specifics,'" Messersmith recalled his teammate saying. "It told me that I can be open about my personal life and people would listen and give input. It's like nothing different. I'm just one of the guys, who happens to like guys."
Messersmith reportedly contacted OutSports with his story before NBA center Jason Collins announced that he's gay in a Sports Illustrated op-ed last month. The sophomore was disappointed by the lack of out gay male athletes and wanted to set a positive example.
"When I came out, there was nobody in my sport I could [relate to]," Messersmith told OutSports. "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 also spoke openly about the vicious bullying he was subjected to as a shy, awkward younth. It reached a crescendo between the ages of 8 and 13, and became so severe his mother decided to homeschool her son for two years. When Messersmith went to high school, the harassment continued, albeit to a less severe degree, and actually drove the teenager to seek refuge in athletics.
"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," Messersmith told OutSports. "After my sophomore year, I didn't care what people thought. I grew stronger because of it and it rolls off my back now."
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