Derek Schell Becomes First Openly Gay Player In The NCAA

derek schell

Photo: Derek Schell

Out NBA center Jason Collins is still unsigned, but the NCAA can boast its first openly gay player: Derek Schell, a 22-year-old guard for the Hillsdale College Chargers came out in an eloquent essay for OutSports on Monday, part of a series for National Coming Out Week.

Schell, a senior business major at the south-central Michigan school, called being a closeted teen at his Catholic high school “a nightmare.”

I heard every gay slur in the book, directed at me and at others, just because it was, and unfortunately still is, part of our society’s language… I constantly felt like I was walking on eggshells, afraid to act a certain way or say something that may give away my truth.

I pushed every worry and negative thought aside and committed to play college basketball, hoping, sometimes even praying, that I would find some sort of remedy for these thoughts I could not get rid of.

Though he began to find a supportive online community in his sophomore year, Schelle still vowed he would never share his “secret.” But eventually, after meeting his boyfriend, he started to realize that his life was his own to lead. “There was nothing wrong with me,” Schell writes. “I didn’t want to be someone else’s idea of normal.

derek schell 2Eventually he began to come out to close friends and family and, in September, Schell finally came out as gay to his teammates and coaches:

I went to each of them and told them I treated them as brothers, since I have none biologically, and that this is just a part of me they finally deserved to know.

Some said they had a feeling and were waiting for me to tell them. Some seemed surprised but nonetheless gave me credit for being open about it.

They all respected me and recognized that nothing had changed and I was the same teammate and friend that I was before. Despite attending a conservative college, I have been accepted for who I am by those on my team and others close to me.

Schell says that while his passion for basketball wavered while he was in the closet, it’s now “at an all-time high.”

For 18 years, I have put in countless hours with my dad and teammates and coaches; but what it has given me is immeasurable. The bonds I have created and lessons I have learned will stay with me forever.

I accomplished all of my goals as a high school player but now I could not be more ready to enjoy and succeed in my last year competing in college. With all of my brothers at my side and exciting challenges in the upcoming season, my antidote is back.

Whether Schell will continue to pursue basketball after graduation is unknown, but he certainly has learned a valuable lesson: “Not only is life too short to dwell on other people’s expectations for you,” he writes, “but it is your decision to choose your attitude and how you react to your surroundings.”


Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.