GLAAD Q&A: Wade Davis Discusses Being Black and Gay In Professional Sports

In honor of Black History Month GLAAD has been highlighting the roles people of color have played in the advancement of LGBT rights.  Recently, GLAAD interviewed Wade Davis, who is a former professional in the NFL, on his experiences as an African-American football player who happens to be gay. The fact that Wade Davis has come out as gay has paved the way for future athletes of all levels to feel comfortable and safe in the sports community. His story has given LGBT athletes a positive role model who serves to break the stereotypes set against LGBT people in sports. In the interview Davis discusses the effect playing football had on his struggle to come out and the effect he hopes his story will have on athletes of any identification.

What was it like growing up as an African-American football player prior to coming out? Initially, my parents didn’t want me to play the game but once my parents got divorced my mother allowed me to start playing football because it was a sport that helps turns young boys into men. When I got to high school I wasn't even one of the better players. I didn't start to really bloom until my junior and senior year in high school.  I started out playing for a division II school but one of the coaches thought I was too good to be playing at that level and he was the one who really helped me transfer to Weber State University in Utah.

What was your experience like playing football collegiately in Utah? I definitely realized my sexuality while I was in college and going to school in a Mormon state was safe and easy for me because it was easy to be asexual. I did have my first experience with a guy at Weber State but it was very clandestine because I still had experiences with girls when I was there. It was never even a thought in my head to come out. I think it was primarily because there wasn’t much conversation about being a gay athlete.

Could you discuss your experience in the NFL prior to coming out? While there, I was very focused on looking and acting like other athletes to make sure they wouldn’t question my sexuality. I used to watch film and think the movements that I made were too effeminate. Instead of watching film to improve and focus on my craft, I would be policing my every movement to make sure I didn’t do anything that I deemed anti-masculine. After leaving the NFL I was so exhausted from hiding my sexuality that I just packed up my things and moved to New York.

Did you notice a difference between the NFL and the European League in their levels of LGBT acceptance for the sport? You know there really wasn't much of a difference because 95% of players there were Americans. Sexuality was never discussed in the locker room. I can't remember a guy saying, "Hey what if one of us was gay". I think it is amazing that guys now are having these conversations in the locker room.

Why do you think it is important for young football players today to have an out role model, who also played professional football?  You can never become what you don’t see, so if young athletes don’t ever see a gay player than they will never think that they exist. Now, these young athletes will know that they can at least play and that gay athletes can be successful in any sport
Do you think that professional football is ready for an openly gay player? Additionally, do you feel that it will happen any time in the near future? I think the NFL is ready for a gay player. I think that the NFL is more aware that they have a problem (with homophobia in football) and they will start doing the work to make sure players feel safe to come out. But I do think that 2-4 years from now we will have an openly gay player and in my personal opinion they will come out in college and just be a good enough player to be drafted into the NFL.

Aside from the work you have done with GLAAD, are their other projects you currently working on? Yes, I just joined the You Can Play advisory board and will be working with them speaking with professional teams and universities having thoughtful and engaged discussions with athletes there. I work at Hetrick-Martin Institute talking with and educating youth about HIV/AIDS and dealing with stigma and shame and promoting the idea that all youth have “a promise” and are not “at-risk”. . I am also working with the Minority Black Aids Institute to create some PSA's about AIDS within communities of color. I also write a column called "Tongues Untied" with Darnell Moore in the Huffington Post.

What are you hoping to leave behind as your legacy as one of the first openly gay people to have played professional sports? I want people to know that I was not only an ally for LGBTQ athletes. I was also an ally for straight identifying athletes. I want people to know that Wade Davis was an ally for any athlete regardless of what they identify with. I want to make sure that LGBTQ athletes and straight athletes feel mutually safe in their playing environments.