Hillsdale College basketball player Derek Schell, 22, publicly came out yesterday with an open letter published by Outsports. A native of Wisconsin and a student athlete at his college in south central Michigan, the young man described his feelings of being different while "losing" himself in the sport he loved. He describes a life as a golden child, with everyone thinking he was happy and set: "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."
Although he got good grades and "dated pretty girls," he knew something wasn't right. He goes on to explain how he began to change his ideas around those ideas of not fitting in:
"Growing up around sports and an athletic family (including my extended family), I had an appreciation of what it meant to live and act like an athlete and I strived to live up to those standards. At the same time, I developed an emotional connection to more creative outlets like music, art, and photography and recognized my attraction to men. Those feelings conflicted with my understanding of being an athlete and I couldn’t figure out how to make those two concepts coexist. Who I was becoming contradicted who I thought I was supposed to become.
"I felt alone, isolated by my feelings, and I was sure I was the only person who felt like this. At that point, I had no trust in myself to open up to anyone around me. At home and at school, most people had never even met a gay person. I grew up in an area of rich, white, straight people of the middle- to upper-class. There were stigmas about being gay and misconceptions about masculinity that I refused to confront. It was the systematic lifestyle and viewpoint of where I grew up. The majority of the time, children, parents and their parents’ parents adopted the same conservative ideals about family and "morality" that were socialized throughout generations. They believed what they were told. Their religions aligned with their conservative convictions of gay people."
It was only after he began to come out to family and friends that, although he attends a conservative college, he was able to process his emotions and deal with building his self esteem. He says it has been a positive force in his life in sports.
"My excitement and passion for basketball is at an all-time high. There was a time in college where my fire died down. However, in maturing and finding acceptance, the game has shown to me why I fell in love with it way back when I was 4 years old. It is an antidote to all of life’s problems; I can always find solace in an empty gym working on my game."
He concludes the letter by saying he challenges other to be honest with themselves and their feelings. "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." After his letter was posted online, Schell tweeted, "Unbelievably overwhelmed with support, love, and inspiration. Today will be one of the greatest days of my life."