Jallen Messersmith was watching the Olympics on Sunday night when one of his roommates got a text alert about Michael Sam.
Instantly, Messersmith started navigating the Internet, reading story after story about Sam, the former Missouri football standout who publicly announced he is gay.
A happy sense of been there, done that washed over Messersmith, who made the same announcement last May after his freshman season playing basketball at Benedictine University in Atchison, Kan.
“What an amazing story, one of the coolest things I’ve seen,” Messersmith said. “I like how it happened. He took it more along the lines of being a really good football player who happens to be gay. It wasn’t something that defined him a football player.”
Sam’s announcement has been met with wide public acceptance, from Mizzou teammates and coaches, through the football community and all the way to the White House, where President Obama and Vice President Biden posted messages on Twitter.
Messersmith, from Blue Springs, is believed to be the first openly gay player in college basketball. He told his story to Outsports.com, and said he received positive reaction from teammates and the campus after his announcement.
He declined to talk about his experience as an openly gay competitor, preferring to complete the season before sharing his thoughts.
“I want to wait until the season is over,” said Messersmith, who is averaging 7.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.8 blocks for the Ravens, who are tied for first in the NAIA’s Heart of America Athletic Conference. “I’m trying to stay focused on our team.”
But he couldn’t admire Sam enough.
“It’s just really good that this happened,” Messersmith said. “It was one of those things that was going to happen at some point, it needed to happen at some point. But for him, one of the best players in the country, that’s what makes it great.”
And Messersmith is hopeful other athletes could travel the same path of openness while knocking down stereotypes.
“People could think just because he’s gay that he can’t be good or tough, but honestly that has no relevance,” he said. “He’s one of the best players in the country, the SEC defensive player of the year. He can break the stereotype.”