Jerry Seinfeld once lamented being outed, even though he was never in. Former NFL player Wade Davis has now outed himself, even though he was already out.
Technically, that’s not what Davis did. But the folks at Outsports.com had previously sold it that way, subtly but unmistakably.
Last month, in an item that explores attitudes among current NFL players regarding the acceptance of gay teammates, Outsports.com said that a former NFL player would soon talk publicly about being gay, for the first time.
But Davis never played in a regular-season NFL game, and he came out, at the latest, in early 2011.
As a result, my initial reaction was to conclude that I’d been the victim of a bait-and-switch, via an effort to build advance buzz for something that, standing along, wouldn’t have drawn much attention. So I initially refused to consider the article or watch the companion interview of Wade Davis.
In most cases (not all, but most), my stubbornness subsides fairly quickly. In this case, I’m glad it did.
The article from Cyd Zeigler, Jr. regarding the time Davis spent playing pro football contains the kind of real-life details that a gay player who is determined to conceal his orientation inevitably experiences, including joining NFL Europe teammates on an outing to a house of ill repute and paying a prostitute $100 to sit and talk.
“You just want to be one of the guys, and you don’t want to lose that sense of family,” said Davis, who was in training camp with the Titans in 2000, and who later was on the roster in Seattle and Washington. “Your biggest fear is that you’ll lose that camaraderie and family. I think about how close I was with [defensive end] Jevon [Kearse] and [cornerback] Samari [Rolle]. It’s not like they’d like me less, it’s that they have to protect their own brand.”
Perhaps more compelling is the videotaped interview by Amy K. Nelson, in which Davis wrestles on camera with the question of whether to urge players fighting for a roster spot to come out of the closet. “Screw it,” Davis eventually says. “I don’t want to be in the business of telling anyone they can’t live their life authentically. I don’t want to do that anymore.” And so, regardless of where a gay player sits on the roster, Davis thinks he should “come out and say, you know what, I’m gay, I’m still a great athlete and even a better human being.”
If every gay player in the NFL (and surely there are a few more than one or two) would simultaneously come out, they would find strength and support from their numbers alone. That’s extremely unlikely to happen, and so the question continues to be who will be the first football player to declare that he’s gay? And then the question will be what happens to him, both in the locker room and on the practice field and when he emerges from the tunnel as a member of the home team or, more importantly, the visiting team?
One thing is certain: It will take far more courage than what a player musters to play tackle football against NFL-caliber talent. In hindsight, however, he’ll be celebrated and supported by far more than those who would criticize and condemn him.