Former NFL player Wade Davis passionately speaks out on sports, homophobia and "Why Gay Male Athletes Don't Come Out of the Closet" in an op-ed at the Sunday Los Angeles Times.
When I was 7 years old, my friends and I would play football in my backyard for hours, often with my mother watching through the kitchen window. One of the games we played was called "smear the queer." At the time I didn't know what "queer" meant. I only knew if you were brave enough to pick up the ball, you were "the queer" and would get creamed.
As I got older, I learned what that term meant, and then, in high school, I realized that I was gay. But that image of how "the queer" got "smeared" stayed with me. I ultimately realized my goal of becoming a professional football player, but being open about my sexuality while I was a player seemed far too dangerous to consider.
[Sports journalist] LZ Granderson, who has been honored for his efforts to combat homophobia in sports, called closeted gay professional athletes "chickens." He's not alone in demanding that athletes and other public figures divulge their sexual orientation and other aspects of their personal lives. But as someone who was closeted during my time in the NFL, I'd suggest it's not always that simple.
I understand the hope that some brave athlete in one of the "manly" sports will come out and that this will transform sports culture, redefine our notion of masculinity and inspire millions of gay athletes battling the perception that gay men can't play sports. But that's a lot of hope to hang on a single act. Transformation is likely to happen more slowly, and it's important that during that process, advocates of equality don't create their own form of oppression by bullying or calling out gay athletes who have chosen not to go public about their sexuality.
Davis also chats with The Daily Beast about being closeted in the NFL.
When I was playing I had a partner. But he presented as straight so people would think, oh that's just his boy. There is no interrogation of people's friends. You choose very strategically when you're in the closet. You choose someone who's very masculinely presenting, who can pass as just a friend. And a lot of guys rolled with crews. So if there's four or five guys waiting on you afterwards no one's gonna know who that is. And there are other guys who don't have their partners come to the games at all.
Wade Davis played for the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks. I interviewed Davis and former basketball players DeMarco Majors and Will Sheridan on "Coming Out in the Locker Room" for the new anthology For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Still Not Enough. Since the book's publication, it has been a pleasure to watch Davis emerge as an eloquent and strong voice for LGBT youth.