The Root: NFL player comes out to help gay athletes

Jun 7 2012 - 9:19pm

Add former Weber State football player Wade Davis to the list. He's the latest man to reveal his homosexuality after playing with a major team sports.

Unlike John Amaechi, who in 2007 became the first former NBA player to come out, Davis isn't a pioneer. In 2002 Esera Tuaolo announced on HBO's Real Sports that he's gay, making him the third former NFL player to come out after David Kopay (1975) and Roy Simmons (1992).

Former Major League Baseball player Glen Burke shared his secret with coaches and teammates but didn't come out fully until 1982 -- three years after his retirement. The same amount of time passed between former MLB player Billy Bean's retirement and revelation.

Davis has been out of the league since 2003 and didn't accomplish much the four seasons he was there. A cornerback, he attended training camps and played preseason games with the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, but he never made a regular-season roster. He did, however, enjoy stints in NFL Europe with Berlin Thunder and the Barcelona Dragons.

So he's as anonymous as an ex-NFL player can be. Yet a star player's admission wouldn't resonate much louder. Davis was in the fraternity and in the closet; he surely wasn't alone and certainly stands as an example to those in that position today. He knows why they choose to remain silent, as he did.

"You just want to be one of the guys, and you don't want to lose that sense of family," Davis told OutSports. "Your biggest fear is that you'll lose that camaraderie and family. I think about how close I was with (former teammates) Jevon (Kearse) and Samari (Rolle). It's not like they'd like me less; it's that they have to protect their own brand."

His interest nowadays is about protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youths through his work as a staff member at the Hetrick-Martin Institute. He's also working with President Obama's re-election campaign as a liaison with the LGBTQ community.

The fear of reprisal might not be as valid today as it was when Davis was in the league. Several NFL veterans, former players and first-year players told Outsports in May that they would accept an openly gay teammate.

"I just don't care about that," former Titans running back Eddie George said. "If that's what you do, that's what you do. I don't hate you because of it or dislike you because of it. That's not my personal preference, but I respect your decision. I'm not going to like you less or not be your friend because of that."

Cleveland Browns rookie halfback Trent Richardson, who played college football in ultraconservative Alabama, said that he has gay friends and wouldn't pay attention to a teammate's orientation. "As long as they're playing good football and contributing to the team, I don't have nothing to do with that," he said. "It is what it is. I don't have any problem with any sexuality or whatever they've got going on."

Athletes don't have to agree with a player's lifestyle to accept him as their teammate. Christian athletes can still hold fast to the belief -- as I do -- that fornication, adultery and homosexuality are sins. But since fornicators and adulterers aren't constantly belittled, disparaged, criticized, ostracized and sometimes terrorized, gays shouldn't be, either.

Heterosexual players who are so-called believers and yet have sex outside of marriage and/or with spouses not their own shouldn't feel "holier than thou." They should be able to hate the sexual sin (theirs included) but love the sexual sinner -- straight or gay.

Davis told CNN's Soledad O'Brien that NFL life in the closet was "very, very lonely," and he regrets his decision to remain hidden. "If I could do it all over again, I would come out ... while I was playing," he said, "because I now understand the impact that that would have had. And it can change the lives of so many youth with bullying that's going on and with this youth just not having a sense of family. You know, that's just why the job that I have is so important. It is the greatest job I've ever had."

We're still waiting for the first active player to come out, not to mention the first star player. Thanks to the steps that Davis is taking, we're getting closer.

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