One month after NBA player Jason Collins became the first athlete in a major pro sport to announce that he is gay, an NCAA player has also come out.

Jallen Messersmith, 20, of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. is believed to be the first openly gay college basketball player.

Messersmith, a rising junior, told the Associated Press on May 29 that he informed his coaches of his sexual orientation last summer, before revealing he was gay to his teammates before the past season. He came out in a March interview with Outsports.com, which posted the story on May 28.

Messersmith’s announcement came weeks after Collins and WNBA star Brittney Griner began speaking openly about their orientation, and days after openly gay soccer player Robbie Rogers announced he would resume a career in Major League Soccer.

“It’s been really comforting to see other be comfortable in themselves with who they are,” said Messersmith. “It’s happening more and more. Sooner or later, a player being gay is not going to be a big deal.”

According to USA Today¸ Messersmith said he has been criticized for his lifestyle all his life, and that he dropped out of middle school to be home-schooled. He eventually began telling others of his orientation in high school following the death of one of his teammates.

“I didn’t want something that was such a big part of me to be hidden,” Messersmith told USA Today. “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.”

Messersmith said most of the 2,000-student Benedictine College knew his orientation months ago. In a joint statement, Benedictine athletic director Charlie Gartenmayer and men’s basketball coach Ryan Moody supported Messersmith’s announcement.

“We support Jallen as a Benedictine College student and as a member of the Raven basketball team,” they wrote. “Obviously, it would be inappropriate for us to discuss the private lives of students. As an institution we treat students with respect and sensitivity.”

From e-mails to social media, Messersmith said he has received plenty of positive feedback, and hoped that he can become a role model to the public and encourage people to be themselves.

Courtney Jacobs

AFRO Staff Writer