BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — Jallen Messersmith, who was raised Mormon and plays on a Catholic college basketball team in Kansas, has come out to his coaches and his teammates, OutSports reports.He is being hailed as the first men’s college basketball player to come out while still playing.
"They were there 100 percent for me,” Messersmith said of the coaching staff. “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."
According to OutSports, Messersmith, who was “petrified” to tell his teammates about his sexuality, didn’t want a showy coming out. His mother, who already knew he is gay, acted as a facilitator, first telling a teammate’s mother, who then told her son with Jallen’s permission. The word spread from there.
A story Messersmith tells about swapping dating stories with another teammate who insisted on getting the details about Messersmith’s night out demonstrates the level of acceptance he enjoys among his teammates.
"I had gone on a date the night before and Brett came up to me when there were a group of us and he asked, ‘So how did your date go last night?’ And I was like, ‘Well, we just kind of did this and this,’” Messersmith recounts in the OutSports feature. “And Brett said, ‘What else did you guys end up doing?’ And I said, ‘Well, we kind of just did stuff and we had fun.’ And he was like, ‘No, if I’m going to tell you specifics about what I did on my date, you’re going to tell me specifics.’"
Messersmith says that moment proved that he could be open about his personal life and that he is viewed as “just one of the guys, who happens to like guys.” Even one teammate who had “expressed reservations” about gay people said he had had a change of heart after Messersmith’s revelation.
Messersmith says he’s “definitely happy and content where I am right now” and revels in the support he has received. “It’s awesome that no one has said anything [negative] and I haven’t had anything change."
Messersmith, who is no longer a member of the Mormon church, reportedly approached OutSports with his story prior to National Basketball Association (NBA) player Jason Collins’s announcement that he’s gay in a Sports Illustrated op-ed.
He says that even though he received nothing but support at home, he would hear anti-gay comments regularly in other settings. “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 that when he came out, there was no one in his sport he could relate to. “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."
Last month, swimmer Amini Fonua, who represented Tonga at the 2012 London Olympics, came out at Texas A&M University, which The Princeton Review named as one of three colleges in the state that are queer-unfriendly, The Houston Chronicle reports.
According to A&M news site The Battalion, Fonua, who is recognized as the only openly gay athlete at the university, feels he’s had to defend his school against accusations of homophobia. In April, a student senate bill initially titled The GLBT Funding Opt-Out Bill but renamed The Religious Funding Exemption Bill put A&M in the national spotlight. The student senate passed the bill by a vote of 35 to 28, but student body president John Claybrook vetoed the measure.
Landing image: outsports.com