The days of pro players hiding in the closet may truly be numbered…
In an interview with Toure on Daily Beast now openly gay former NFL baller Wade Davis discusses how there are already semi-openly gay pro players and his fears about the “Jackie Robinson” moment for the LGBT community:
T: Is there a professional athlete fraternity or an NFL fraternity?
W: Both. There’s one that exists in the NFL and there’s one for sports. It’s not talked about, it just is what it is. Because we’ve all gone through the same thing so there’s a protection that exists if you’ve gone through what it takes to make it at that level.
T: So the guys in the NFL who are gay have protection?
W: Yes. Openly gay is a bit strong cuz when we think of openly gay we think of walking down the street with your boyfriend but there are players who know that this player may have a boyfriend or may not date women and that’s just it. It’s not talked about. He’s there to do a job, I’m here to do a job, it’s not talked about, he’s my brother, he doesn’t treat me any different than anyone else does.
T: Can you give an approximate number of how many gay men there are in the NFL?
W: I only know of three.
T: You know of three guys in the NFL?
W: Not only in the NFL. There’s some in the NFL and some in the NBA.
T: Known names?
W: I wouldn’t say they’re known names but one’s a starter.
Hmmm wonder who that could be? Any ideas folks?
Hit the flip for Davis’ explanation on “semi-open” players and why he doesn’t think it’s as big a deal as some folks make it.
Here’s how Wade explains living “semi-open”:
T: So what’s the lifestyle of someone who’s, let’s call it, semi-open? Because women are part of the culture of being in the NFL. You talked about being in gentlemen’s clubs and making it rain just to prove that you weren’t. This sort of person doesn’t have to do that because their teammates know and accept that?
W: If a guy is known to not roll that way he just exists the same way you and I would when you go home to your wife and I go home to my partner.
T: But when you play on a team with a guy you tend to get to know him. You see his kids, his girlfriend, his mistress, what have you. So if you’re gay the teammates are going to know.
W: Yes… One particular guy I know of keeps things very separate. But everything else that his teammates do he does. If they go to the Waffle House late night or if there’s a barbeque or a smoke session at someone’s house this guy goes and just exists just like everyone else. His partner may not take part in that.
T: The beat reporters don’t figure it out?
W: 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.
T: Were you afraid of being found or outed when you were a player?
W: I don’t think I was afraid of getting caught. It was easier for me to exist in this cloak of secrecy. I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what the response would be, I didn’t know if it would change the team dynamic, I didn’t know if I was ready to own it in front of other people, too. Cuz as long as you’re denying it to yourself it’s not really real. The hardest time was when I was in Barcelona [with the Barcelona Dragons of NFL Europe]. We were in Sitges, the second highest gay populated place in the world. So we’d be looking down at a resort beach and you see hundreds, thousands of gay men on the beach in Speedos and walking the streets shirtless and stuff. Imagine me being closeted there. It was my worst fear come true. And one thing that worked against me is my popularity. Everyone on the team liked me and that prevented me from ever being able to go out and explore alone. There’d be times I try to sneak out at night and people would be like oh I’ll go with you and I’d be like damn. Because I wanted to have a conversation with another gay men like what’s your life like? But I couldn’t get away. So being there was the hardest time in my life and my play suffered. I’d never played so bad because there was so many gay men. Nowhere you went there weren’t lots of attractive gay men.
T: In 2002 Sterling Sharpe said on HBO’s RealSports that if you came out as gay on Monday you wouldn’t make it to Sunday. You wouldn’t make it to the other team because you wouldn’t want the other team to think differently of you. Was he right?
W: I don’t believe that he was correct. I think if you asked Sterling Sharpe if Brett Favre said he was gay would he have taken Brett Favre out? No way. I think Sterling was thinking this guy would be the last guy on the roster. If Tom Brady said he was gay they wouldn’t take Tom Brady out.
T: So ok the star player comes out, then we’ll accept that but if the bench player comes out he’ll get taken out.
W: No, I don’t think he’ll be taken out and I think Sterling Sharpe’s argument is bull… Everyone knows the hard work that guys put in. They may not socialize with him outside of football because of some religious beliefs or because they’re uncomfortable but I don’t believe anyone would intentionally take a player out.
Do you agree with Davis? Hit the flip for what he has to say about the Gay “Jackie Robinson” moment that people are anticipating for team pro sports.
T: When you get to that Jackie Robinson, that extraordinary player who’s gay but he’s so good you can’t front, do you think about the impact that that would have on America when that moment comes?
W: I think about that moment a lot and that moment really scares me. I think we exist in a society that’s looking for a specific type of player who’s gay. Would we need a face of gay athletics who’s got gold fronts and dreds? You think that the media and Nike would do all this and that for them? Imagine if this person is someone who didn’t go to Stanford, who’s maybe not as articulate as we like. Who’s like Two Chains. Is he going to be the face of this LGBT sports movement? No. There’s not a chance in Hell. And what if this athlete says I’m gay but I want to do my work silently. I’m gay, I’ve owned it, I’ve given everyone that. Now I just want to play ball. Is the media going to be ok with that? Are my fellow LGBT sports pundits going to be ok with that?
T: So you’re worried about who it is.
W: I’m worried about who it is and the idea that they have to do all these things the way that we want them to do it. That we’ve removed all the agency that they have. That’s what I’m worried about. What if he says I don’t want to be on the cover of Out? I don’t want to be sexualized. Everyone doesn’t exist in that sphere and if he doesn’t follow that pre-existing roadmap then he’s not going not be good enough to be that person. If I’d have come out while I was playing I would’ve said the most screwed up stuff in the world about gay youth. Because I didn’t know. I didn’t have the language to talk about it. I wasn’t reading books, I was reading playbooks. I promise if, I’d have been out I would’ve said to guys, ‘The fa**ot just dominated you.” Guaranteed. 100%. I know that word is horrific and gets kids bullied and killed but I guarantee if I was out I would’ve said that to people.
T: The responsibility of representing for all gay people would’ve been beyond you.
W: We want this person to come out and save the world when he’s probably not even ready to save himself. Because I needed to save Wade first. I was scared to say to myself Wade Davis you’re gay. Saying that in the mirror was heavy. The stigma associated with being gay was too heavy to bear.
T: But what we have now is guys who are hiding.
W: Do you think no one in the NFL, NBA or MLB knows these guys are gay? There’s probably at least one guy on a team that everyone knows is gay and no one’s saying anything. I guarantee that exists. Because guys grow up just wanting to be athletes. They didn’t want to be the gay athlete. You have guys saying I knew I was gay when I was three. You probably knew you wanted to be an athlete before that. So guys just want to exist, to be a ballplayer.
T: Is it different in the NBA?
W: There’s a perception that the percentage of gay guys in the NBA is higher than in the NFL.
T: Is the burden solely on the gay players to start coming out or is it also on the straight players to make it acceptable?
W: Yes, straight guys must start affirming the fact that they’re ok with playing with gay teammates. Because there are more straight players. If all of them create this voice, if Peyton Manning and all these other guys come out and say something people will say maybe I need to listen or revisit my way of thinking now because these guys are ok with it. But I never felt the players in the NFL didn’t allow me to be gay. I was not suppressed. I want people to know that. It was a decision I made because of how I felt about myself.
This is a lot to digest but what do you think about Davis’ comments that there are starters in pro sports living semi-open lives already. Is it shocking or only natural in 2013???