By ERIC OLSON
It didn’t take Jason Collins to say he’s gay to compel Jallen Messersmith to make the same announcement.
Messersmith is a 6-foot-7 shot-blocking specialist from tiny Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. He also is believed to be the first openly gay active player in U.S. men’s college basketball.
Messersmith told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he revealed his sexual orientation to his coach last summer and his teammates before the season. He later told his story to Outsports.com, a website that covers gay issues in sports.
He said he has received nothing but positive feedback since the story was posted Tuesday afternoon. Though he acknowledged he felt anxious about the reaction, he said he wanted to come out to help other gay athletes feel comfortable about who they are.
“The big thing for me, why I wanted to do it, before the whole Jason Collins thing, is there weren’t a lot of basketball-related stories like this,” Messersmith said. “When I started coming out, I didn’t have anyone to look to for advice or to see how their story went. People can look to see what happened to me–and there are positive things going on.”
The 20-year-old Messersmith, from Blue Springs, Mo., will be a junior for the Ravens next season. He appeared in 28 games this past season, starting the last eight, and averaged 4.9 points and 3.6 rebounds. He blocked 53 shots, and his average of 1.89 a game ranked third in NAIA Division I.
Benedictine athletic director Charlie Gartenmayer and men’s basketball coach Ryan Moody declined comment, referring to a statement the school released Wednesday.
“We support Jallen as a Benedictine College student and as a member of the Raven basketball team. Obviously, it would be inappropriate for us to discuss the private lives of students,” it said. “As an institution we treat all students with respect and sensitivity.”
Messersmith’s story in Outsports.com was posted a month after Collins came out as the NBA’s first openly gay active player, breaking the news in a Sports Illustrated article. Messersmith said he was interviewed by Outsports.com before the Collins story broke.
“He wasn’t a buffer for me,” Messersmith said, adding that just about everyone at 2,000-student Benedictine knew his sexual orientation months ago. He said he had not corresponded with Collins.
“It’s awesome to have another person in my sport to come out (nationally) beforehand,” Messersmith said.