Derek Schell, a 22-year-old athlete from Michigan’s Hillsdale College, came out as the first openly gay NCAA Division II Basketball player in a first-person essay for Out Sports.
“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,” Schell wrote on October 8. “I wanted people to accept me and to embrace me, so I let those expectations take control.”
Like many closeted members of the gay community, coming out was a stressful period, which led to anxiety and depression for Derek.
”Who I was becoming contradicted who I thought I was supposed to become,” Schell added. “The beginning of my sophomore year of college, the only way I felt comfortably being myself was online. I met the person that I care for most in this world, my boyfriend Kevin. We have been together 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.”
The first people he came out to were his immediate family, followed by his close peers and classmates. Only in September did Schell finally come out to his teammates and his coach.
“They all respected me and recognized that nothing had changed and I was the same teammate and friend that I was before,” Schell says. “Despite attending a conservative college, I have been accepted for who I am by those on my team and others close to me.”
In his essay, he gives inspirational advice for anyone still closeted or struggling with his or her sexuality:
Sometimes the darkest times in life are only doorways to the best moments of your life, the ones you were meant to experience and live to see. I wanted to do this so that the generations to follow have an example; so that the younger LGBT youth who live afraid of who they are becoming can know they have nothing to fear and they are perfect the way they are. My challenge to you, whoever is reading this, is to be honest with yourself and how you’re feeling. God doesn’t make mistakes. Don’t keep saying you’re fine. 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. Find your peace of mind knowing you are giving your best self to the world. Be brave. Be love. But most of all, be you.