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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 7, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 23
Jallen Messersmith comes out to play - Benedictine forward is first openly Gay male college basketball player
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Jallen Messersmith comes out to play - Benedictine forward is first openly Gay male college basketball player

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Jallen Messersmith was raised Mormon, overcame bullying, and is openly Gay on his Catholic college's basketball team in Kansas. He fits in with his teammates and says he was embraced after he came out last fall - first to his coaches and then to his teammates.

'He's a very outgoing player and if you need an example of a hustler, it's him,' said Benedictine Ravens guard Brett Fisher, Messersmith's teammate and best friend. 'He's doing the dirty work for the team. He's getting the blocks on defense, he's getting every rebound. We like him on the team.'

Messersmith contacted Outsports.com about telling his coming-out story prior to NBA player Jason Collins declaring he is Gay, so he appears to be the first Gay men's college basketball player to come out while still playing (Villanova's Will Sheridan came out after he graduated).

'When I came out, there was nobody in my sport I could relate to,' Messersmith told Outsports about why he agreed to share his story. 'I always wanted to put it out there and I had a great experience with it, and I wanted to show people it could be fine.'

ONE OF THE GUYS
He admits to being terrified prior to coming out to the team, but according to Outsports, this past season shows how readily he has been accepted in the locker room.

'I had gone on a date the night before and Brett came up to me when there were a group of us and he asked, 'So how did your date go last night?' And I was like, 'Well, we just kind of did this and this.' And Brett said, 'What else did you guys end up doing?' And I said, 'Well, we kind of just did stuff and we had fun.' And he was like, 'No, if I'm going to tell you specifics about what I did on my date, you're going to tell me specifics.'

'It told me that I can be open about my personal life and people would listen and give input. It's, like, nothing different. I'm just one of the guys, who happens to like guys. He eventually got it out of me, though it took some prodding.'

'We teased him a little bit about his date the way we tease each other,' Fisher added.

He was raised in a loving household along with a sister (now 18), a brother (15), and, recently, two adopted brothers from foster care (8 and 7). He has 23 cousins on his mother's side and he inherited his athleticism from his dad, who played basketball, football, and ran track in college.

KNEW HE WAS DIFFERENT
His mother knew Jallen was not like other boys from an early age, he said.

'When I did come out, my mom said she knew that I was different but that she didn't know why,' he said to Outsports. 'Growing up, I was always the really quiet, shy, nice and sweet kid. The story she brought up to me is when I was younger, I was in dance and tap and I was the only guy in class. All the girls wore pink. I had to wear everything black. I came home one day and I said I wanted to have the pink shoes and they wouldn't let me. At that point, she knew something was different.'

Growing up Mormon (he has since left the church), Messersmith would hear regular denunciations of homosexuality, but at home his family gave him nothing but support, as if they sensed his true orientation. 'My mom had told me all growing up that if for some reason somebody was gay, they would support them. But going to church, all I heard was 'this is bad, this is bad, this is bad.' When I heard stuff like that, all I did was try to get away from it,' he said.

What he couldn't get away from, reports Outsports, was the constant verbal bullying from other kids, which was at its most vicious from ages 8 to 13.

'Growing up, I was always picked on,' he said. 'I seldom had a guy friend growing up. I was lonely and didn't have any super-close friends. Some days I would go to my room and just cry about it. It was something I kept to myself.'

BASKETBALL WAS A REFUGE
Intensely shy then, he kept the worst of the bullying a secret from his parents. They knew enough, though, that the bullying was one reason his mom home-schooled Jallen for two years. He entered high school and the bullying continued, though at a lesser intensity. Messersmith found a refuge in basketball, another irony for someone wrestling with their sexuality. Sports are often not seen as a sanctuary for Gay teen boys.

'The people making fun of me pushed me into basketball further and made me want to be the best at basketball and get somewhere with myself,' he said. 'After my sophomore year, I didn't care what people thought. I grew stronger because of it and it rolls off my back now.'

The 20-year-old junior-to-be is now a forward at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, affiliated with the NAIA. Despite coming off the bench last season, Messersmith was the team leader in blocks (by a wide margin), swatting nearly two shots per game.

Benedictine athletic director Charlie Gartenmayer and men's basketball coach Ryan Moody declined comment for this article, referring to a statement the school released last week.

'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.'

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