Trent Gordon was excited to accompany his family from their Texas home to Stillwater, Okla., for the 2013 Oklahoma State homecoming celebration in which his grandfather, a basketball player for the Cowboys from 1958 through 1961, was to be honored.
After spending some time there, however, Gordon received the surprise of his then-13-year-old life.
He discovered that Lavalius “L.C.” Gordon wasn’t just any basketball player. He was part of history, having broken the color barrier in the Oklahoma State basketball program, becoming the first African American to participate for the team.
“I had no idea because no one told me anything,” Gordon, a redshirt sophomore safety for Penn State, said Thursday in a Zoom conference call with reporters, adding that his family “wanted me to find out as a surprise.”
“So then there’s all these things that I find out about him -- him being the first Black player to play at Oklahoma State. It was just really surreal to me, and I didn’t even know that he was just this serious dude. Everybody kind of knows he’s a part of the basketball legacy there.
“Finding out about that, it was just really special for me because the grandfather that I know, he never really told any basketball stories. He was just kind of this guy that sat in his chair and didn’t say much. He was a family man. But then when I found out that second part of him, I was really pretty much astonished.”
Gordon said the fact that segregation still existed during that time “struck a chord with me, knowing that he didn’t have the best time in college.” He said his grandfather told him that his teammates embraced him and that “he felt more at home the more that he was with the basketball team.”
Still, he said he sees parallels between his grandfather’s experiences and what is happening today in society as a whole with racism and social injustice, issues that Gordon has spoken out about on Twitter.
“It’s just something that we’ve dealt with for years and something that we want stopped,” he said. “So far, we’re kind of stagnant in our change but hopeful that it continues to go our way.
“It doesn’t mean that Black Lives Matter is all lives matter. Black Lives Matter is pretty much saying that we want equality for all. So that’s just something that I kind of hold with me and I continue to cherish. I’m still fighting for it and hopefully the equality can be amongst everybody in the near future.”
Gordon said he believes Penn State respects everyone, so “I’m fortunate enough to not have to go through the experiences that my grandfather did.” He said he appreciates the fact that discussions on social issues are encouraged.
On the football field, Gordon played in 10 games last season at cornerback for the Nittany Lions and was moved in the offseason to safety, a position he played in high school. He has studied his new position while adding weight, going from 184 pounds to 202, but the loss of spring football left him at a disadvantage with the returning players at the position.
“There’s so many levels to playing safety on the field that’s actually a little overwhelming at times, which is something that I’ve got to deal with,” he said. “It’s pretty much having to know how the defense should be lined up, what everybody should be doing on a certain play that we called, and then just the pressure of everything.”
Right now, Gordon is going through his workouts while observing all the safety measures in place to stay healthy. He said he is taking each day as it comes, not knowing if the pandemic is going to eliminate the 2020 season, which is not good for people like himself who want to accumulate film for NFL scouts.
“I think about that a lot,” he said. “We want film for the NFL. I’m trying to make it, and so without there being a season, that kind of scares me, especially since I want to get out so bad. I’m just praying that there’s a season. I talk about it every day with the guys.