Former NFL player Wade Davis spoke about his decision to come out, his work with LGBT youth and his support of President Obama’s re-election campaign during an interview at the Capital Pride Festival on Sunday.
The Shreveport, La., native spoke to the Blade less than a week after he publicly discussed his sexual orientation for the first time during an interview with the LGBT sports website Outsports.com. He said that he has been out to family members and close friends since he was 26.
“At the time I didn’t have the support structure around me with enough family or friends that I really thought would support my choice of being out,” he added when asked about why he did not publicly discuss his homosexuality with his teammates and others sooner. “Also just individually I wasn’t strong enough. I didn’t know who I was enough.”
Davis, 34, played preseason football for the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Redskins before an injury forced him to retire from the National Football League in 2004. He also played for the Berlin Thunder and the Barcelona Dragons in the NFL Europe league.
He told Outsports.com that he had begun to date a man for the first time while playing in the German capital, but he discussed his boyfriend with his teammates as though he were a woman. Davis also cited rumors he said he heard in the Titans locker room about a player whom his potential teammates thought was bisexual. He said at least one of them suggested that he avoid him to further bolster his chances of making the team.
“It increased my level of posturing,” stressed Davis. “I went from being probably a guy that was trying to be normal to maybe adding a couple extra layers on that to prove my masculinity, to prove that I was just one of the guys. I would say it deepened my closeting for lack of a better word.”
Davis is among a handful of athletes that include former NFL player Esera Tuaolo and former National Basketball Association center John Amaechi who have publicly discussed being gay since their retirement from professional sports.
Former Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse told Outsports.com after Davis came out that his sexual orientation would not have mattered in the locker room — Davis did concede, however, that most of his former teammates were upset that he hadn’t disclosed his homosexuality with them sooner. “I’ve gotten tweets, texts, e-mails, phone calls from guys I haven’t spoken to in years,” he noted. “It’s been just a windfall of love.”
Davis said the majority of his family has also been “very supportive.”
“My parents, who are very religious, are evolving very similar to the president,” he said, referring to Obama’s announcement during an ABC News interview last month that he supports marriage rights for same-sex couples. “They’re having to understand, OK, my son is… now gay so let me now re-evaluate what my true views are on what being gay is and what that would mean for me as a parent.”
Davis added that he has also received positive feedback from black gay men across the country since he came out. “The biggest thing is that they’re happy that I’m finally living in my truth,” he said. “They’re also happy that I’m not only living in my truth, but I’m making sure that others can follow in my footsteps.”
Nearly a decade after leaving the NFL, Davis now advocates on behalf of LGBT youth as a staff member of the Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York City.
“My goal is to teach youth how to thrive, survive and realize that they have potential to make it in the world, no matter what challenges have been placed in front of them,” he said. “My biggest goal is to help make sure our youth have a voice and they understand the power they have inside of them is strong enough to make it through anything.”
Davis, who has been with HMI since February 2011, further described the young people with whom he works as personal heroes who inspire him. “Even though I was an athlete — people think it’s something great, but I wasn’t able to live in my truth until I was 26, 27,” he said. “They live in their truth every day.”
In addition to his work with LGBT youth, Davis continues to support the president’s re-election campaign. He spoke to the Blade while volunteering for Obama for America at a Capital Pride Festival booth.
“I believe in just [about] everything our president represents from his stance on marriage equality to what he wants to do not just for black Americans or white Americans but for every American,” he said, further pointing out that Obama offers LGBT voters with what he described as a clear choice in November. “People will understand that voting for [former Massachusetts Gov.] Mitt Romney is a step back and voting for President Obama is a gigantic step forward in making sure that the values in our community are aligned with equality and non-bigotry.”
Davis conceded he had never considered himself a role model; but he said he has come to embrace his status within the context of his work with the Obama campaign, LGBT youth and as an out gay man.
“I take my role, very, very seriously so I’m going to do everything I can,” he said.