Chris Burns, a men's basketball assistant coach at Bryant University, became the first male Division I coach to come out as gay Wednesday, telling Outsports.com it was time to tell the world because he was ready to "make a difference."
Burns, who starred for a then-Division II Bryant squad that advanced to four straight NCAA tournaments from 2003 to '07, said he felt his turning point came after attending the 2014 Nike LGBT Sports Summit in Portland, Oregon.
"To see that support group of people, who have all been working for so many years in sports, was incredibly powerful and inspiring," Burns wrote in a first-person column for Outsports.com. "Being able to learn and talk with members from all parts of the LGBT community sank in just how important being able to tell my story would be, and how there is a responsibility that comes along with meeting these people and being in the positions that we are in the athletic world."
He came out to his head coach, Tim O'Shea, and wanted to "take the leap," but he stayed silent because doubts arose over the level of support he might find.
"I keep letting my fears control my action," said Burns, now 31.
In June, the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage helped Burns feel ready to share his story. He told administrators, fellow coaches and the team. The team embraced him -- literally.
"I can't say enough about believing in the good in people, the good in human beings," an emotional Burns told USA Today. "They can surprise you, energize you, give you a reason to believe in the good in the world."
Then-UMass player Derrick Gordon came out as the first openly gay player in Division I men's basketball in April 2014. Former Portland State women's basketball coach Sherri Murrell became the first openly gay Division I coach in 2009.
Bryant opens its season Nov. 14 against Duke, and Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski has offered both private and public support.
"One act of courage produces another," Krzyzewski told USA Today. "When I think of this, I think of tossing a big stone into a lake or a pond. The ripples he's creating are huge. To me, it's a huge step in the right direction for our sport because it can allow others who don't feel like they can be who they are to do the same."