A high school basketball player is shining a spotlight on homophobia in sports after he was harassed at a game for coming out.
Dalton Maldonado, a starting point guard on the Betsy Layne High School basketball team, was verbally assaulted at a tournament near Lexington, Ky., last December, reports Outsports.
"Hey, number 3, I hear you're a faggot," said a member of the opposing team shortly after winning a game.
Maldonado, who was out to only two members of his team at the time and had told his parents he was gay only days earlier, shot back with a joke that opened the closet door a bit wider.
"Yeah baby, can I have your number?" he replied.
The slur produced a visceral reaction in Maldonado, who "realized that I had just came out, and it was definitely not the way I wanted to." Immediately after the exchange, he became emotional, "crying so hard he was shaking," recounted teammate McKenzie Akers.
After teammates kept asking what was wrong, he decided to open the closet door the rest of the way.
"I finally stood up and said, 'I'm gay, I'm gay, OK?'" he recounted.
But the abuse didn't end there. After the game, members of the opposing team were waiting outside the Betsy Lane bus, and continued to shout slurs like "faggot" at Maldonado. A few even tried to board the bus, but were stopped by Maldonado's teammates. On the ride home, cars chased the bus, their drivers making threatening gesticulations.
"They were making gestures like they were trying to shoot at the bus," Akers said. "And they kept yelling bad things at Dalton. It was scary."
"They kept yelling that word," he added, referring to "faggot." "They wanted to get to Dalton. It was intense."
The police were called, and for security purposes, they restricted access to the floor of the Lexington hotel where the team was staying during the four-day tournament. Anticipating continued harassment, administrators gave the Betsy Layne players the choice to leave early, with the decision ultimately going to Maldonado.
Despite the horrific experience, Maldonado chose to stay. And the team rallied in support of him.
"He's one of my players," said coach Brandon Kidd. "And we treated him just as good as anybody else on the team. I didn't look at him being a gay player, he was just my starting point guard."
"After that incident our team really came together," he added. "Dalton had often hung out with the younger players. After that happened the senior boys really took to him and they accepted him for who he was. It was one of those stories, where they all bonded together. They didn't look at him as gay or straight, they just looked at him as their brother."
Escorted by police to games and practices, the team completed the tournament. The support of his fellow players helped give Maldonado confidence to overcome trying situations, such as when another team began yelling homophobic slurs at him, after word of the incident spread.
"I felt like I didn't have anything to hide anymore, and the fact that they accepted me made it all better!" he said.
Maldonado, who may begin his college education at Eastern Kentucky University this fall, says he is unlikely to continue playing basketball in college. But he hopes his experience helps other LGBT athletes overcome adversity.
"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," he concluded." "Now here I am telling the world."
Read the rest of his amazing story at Outsports.