Derek Schell from Hillsdale College in south central Michigan has become the first openly gay NCAA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) Division II basketball player in the US.
Schell came out to the public in an inspirational article published by Outsports.com on Monday.
The twenty-two-year-old wrote that he knew he was gay from an early age but that he was terrified by the thought of being different.
“My friends, my parents, my sister, my teachers — everyone expected me to be an all-star, to help lead the basketball team to a state championship and to date a pretty girl. I wanted people to accept me and to embrace me, so I let those expectations take control. I hid who I was so that I wouldn’t let other people down,” Schell said.
He revealed that he was conflicted by his sexuality and his Christian beliefs and that he would spend time “hoping, sometimes even praying, that I would find some sort of remedy for these thoughts I could not get rid of.
“My day-to-day actions were consumed by this increasing need to hide my sexuality,” he said, adding that as he got older he made plans to eventually marry a woman.
Schell explained that it was when he got to college that he finally began to become more comfortable being himself in an online environment. He also met his boyfriend Kevin, with whom he has been with for two years.
“I began to realize that my life was my own. There was no more time for living in the hopes of pleasing others and living up to any one person’s or any societal expectation. I had to find a balance between helping and caring for others and making my happiness a priority.
“I came out as gay to all my closest friends because I wanted to see who was really a true friend to me. There was nothing wrong with me. I didn’t want to be someone else’s idea of normal. To me, normal is a boring, stereotypical mold that encourages conformity and trying to fit in. I just wanted to be accepted,” wrote Schell.
He went on to say that he chose to write the letter because he wanted to show LGBT youth that “you can be who you are and still be an athlete. You can do all the things you want to do and live a beautiful life that you’ve imagined for yourself”.
On Twitter, Schell said that he was “unbelievably overwhelmed with support, love, and inspiration” in response to the publication of his coming out article. He added that “Today will be one of the greatest days of my life”.
The last year has seen a growing number of athletes coming out in the US.
In May, Jallen Messersmith from Benedict College in Kansas, became the first openly gay men’s college basketball player in America. He plays for the first division of the NAIA, while Schell plays for the second division.
Earlier, in April, National Basketball Association (NBA) star Jason Collins came out as the first active athlete in a top American professional team sport.
Read Schell’s full article here.