Former pro football player Wade Davis publicly announced yesterday that he is gay. The 34-year-old cornerback who played with Tennessee Titans, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Washington Redskins spoke with Outsports and SB Nation about being a gay athlete and his current work with disenfranchised lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, questioning, and non-conforming youth.
While close friends of Davis, and of course the men he has dated, have known for years that the retired player is gay, his former teammates had been unaware. Davis tells Outsports, “you just want to be one of the guys, and you don’t want to lose that sense of family.” He adds, “it’s not that they’d like me less, it’s that they have to protect their own brand.” The brand and his teammates would have been affected, Davis thinks, by “the perception that being gay makes me less masculine,” he tells SB Nation.
During his stint as a free agent rookie with the Titans in 2000, Davis’ teammates suggested he stay away from a player who was thought to be bisexual, lest it hurt Davis’ chance of making the team. “It was just that I should not let this perception be on my shoulders too,” he recalls to Outsports. Despite such instances, former Titans teammate Jevon Kearse, supports Davis and believes attitudes in the NFL are changing. Speaking of athletes who are gay, after learning that Davis is one of them, Kearse says, “it’s just becoming more acceptable, which is a good thing so they can come out and not feel secluded.” He adds, “I know there have been a lot more than just Wade.”
Davis’ announcement comes shortly after Kearse and several other NFL players said that a teammate’s sexual orientation would mostly be a nonissue, especially compared to athletic ability or the spirit of brotherhood. Along with Kearse’s sentiments, the NFL’s climate of acceptance seems to be continuously growing. In his interview with SB Nation, Davis agrees, saying that “we’re definitely getting closer to where people honestly and truly believe it’s okay to be gay and play sports or be a rapper or be an actor. We’re moving in that direction.”
The NFL, though “moving in that direction,” still has a long way to go. In the interview, Davis expresses that it might be more difficult to come out for a reserve player like he, as opposed to an established star who wouldn’t have to worry about job protection. But, “screw it,” he urges. “Whether you’re the first man or 21st man or last man or even someone on the practice squad, come out and say you know what, I’m gay, I’m still a great athlete, and I’m an even better human being.”
Davis likens the process of publicly coming out to “taking a scab off of my entire body as aggressively, as physically, as horrible as I can. I bleed in the best kind of way but also in the worst kind of way because I bled alone.” Davis went through with it, though, because he said he “started to realize that there’s an opportunity here to really make and effect change not only with myself but in the world.”
Davis is now the assistant director of job readiness at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, where he counsels LGBT youth and prepares them for the workplace. Motivated by the youth he works with, Davis tells SB Nation, “they need to hear it from me…Be out, be proud, be yourself.”