Wade Davis Jr., former NFL player and gay activist, will be grand marshal of this year's Pride Parade and will later this year launch You Can Play, a youth basketball and leadership camp aimed at promoting tolerance in sports. He spoke with RedEye about being gay in pro sports and the future and significance of gay athletes.
When did you know you were gay? When did you come out publicly?
A: I knew I was gay since the 10th grade, and I came out publicly in June of last year. To be fair to myself, I told anyone who asked that I was gay, I just didn't allow anyone to write a story on me. I've been living my life as an openly gay male probably since 2006. But I never thought about coming out one time when I was playing. When I retired in 2004, the world was very different. There were no conversations around gays in sports. There were no Brendon Ayanbadejo speaking out publicly that they would accept a gay teammate. It was just very very different then.
What influenced you to come out, and why was that important?
A: The biggest thing that influenced me to come out really was the really alarming amount of internalized homophobia I was dealing with for so long. It really took me awhile, having people in my life from an amazing partner, to meeting people in the New York gay flag football league, to really affirm that the person I was was good enough to exist in the world authentically.
What made you feel like you had to keep your sexual identity a secret while playing?
A: It wasn't sports that kept me in the closet. I think the game of football was probably my first ally. It gave me a family, a community of people who had accepted me. The (hesitation) I had about not wanting to come out as an individual while playing sports had less to do with sports and more to do with the idea that I hadn't found enough people who affirmed me as a gay male.
Why is it so important to have openly gay players in professional sports?
A: When I was young, when I realized I was gay, I wanted so greatly to see another gay black man who looked like me, who acted like me, who talked like me. The old saying goes, you can never become what you don't see.
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