By Kelly Craig
June 5, 2012 was an important day for Wade Davis. It was the day Outsports.com released his story: “Wade Davis talks for the first time about being gay in the NFL, working with LGBTQ youth.”
Throughout Wade’s NFL career, attending training camp, playing preseason games with the Tennessee Titans, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Washington Redskins, and working with NFL Europe, he remained silent about his sexuality.
“It would have been, for lack of a better word, maybe a circus because I would have been the first active player to have come out,” Wade says, “and I think where the professional sport was at that time, it would have been a big media circus.”
Wade says that the main reason he waited until after he retired from the NFL was because he simply wasn’t ready.
“For me there was a lot of self loathing and self hatred that went on. So I had to learn to love myself, my complete self which meant loving the homosexual man that I am,” Wade says. “That process hadn’t happened so I needed time to begin that process before I was able to come out.”
He describes being in the closet during his football career as “pretty easy” because “that was the only life that I knew.”
Wade continues, “I had kind of had it down pat for lack of a better word. Like, I knew how to tell lies, how to posture and develop a straight male, so that was actually much easier. I think the hard part was the mental aspect of it… realizing that you change who you are because you’re taught that being a gay man is something that’s so vile.”
A great deal has happened regarding LGBT in Athletics since Wade’s experience – from Athletes coming out, to organizations popping up addressing homophobia in sports.
Wade agrees: “I believe the NFL is making great strides by having people like myself and other people doing workshops and training, spreading diversity.”
Recently, Brendon Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens has tweeted his support for the freshman linebacker of the North Dakota State College of Science after he was kicked off the team for kissing his boyfriend.
Wade shares his advice for openly gay and closeted football players at the high school and college levels:
“The first thing that I would tell them is to find a support system, people in their lives [who]will accept them for who they are; and then once they have that system in place, then I would tell them to consider the idea of coming out and being an openly gay athlete.
“I think that people think that it’s just this one day where you wake up and say ‘ok I’m gonna be out. I’m gonna be me.’ You can do that but there are a lot of other factors that play along on that. You need to know that when you come out, there’s going to be people who are going to be immediately against it… You have to have people who are going to be there for you when you do face that negativity that’s going to come your way.”
Wade is now devoting his time and energy to working with LGBT youth.
When Wade first moved to New York City, he began to volunteer at different organizations. “I really started to realize that I can make an impact. I can in a sense really let other youth know that you can be an athlete, you can be a success and still be gay.”
Wade was offered a position with the Hetrick-Martin Institute, a place where LGBTQ youth have “a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential,” according to their mission statement. Wade is now the Assistant Director in Job Readiness.
“I was blessed to be offered a job where I help youth learn how to strive, survive and realize that power that is within themselves,” Wade says, “but also teach them different skills that they’re going to need throughout their lives as they navigate through the world and grow up.”
Wade continues, “I feel as though I am existing around real life heroes. That I have the pleasure of waking up everyday to go to work with people who exhibit strengths that I wish I had. You know to be around a thirteen or fourteen year old girl and seeing her owning who she is and coming out to her parents and not caring how they react, knowing that they could be put out of their house. Or meeting a transgender youth who has come out and who is not homeless, but is still waking up everyday and trying to make a difference in this world. Those are real life heroes. I feel like I have the privilege to work with real life rock stars.”
Throughout his work, Wade has seen New York LGBT youth facing homelessness, poverty and a lack of access to education, although there are many other struggles facing them today.
“I think that we’re existing now in a generation of people who don’t care about their brothers and their sisters, that we’re so focused on our own lives and our own instant gratification and how to make our lives better. America is just in a very selfish place.”
Wade shares his hope for the future: “There are adults out there that are willing to put their names and their lives on the front of these issues.”
He mentions how powerful it is for the LGBT community to speak with people who are straight who support them “just to understand that it’s not just a gay issue or a straight issue. It’s a human issue. I think that having these conversations keep it in the conscious mind but also let you know that we haven’t stopped yet in the strive for equality.”
Wade Davis will be a panelist at this year’s dot429 StraightTalk conference, alongside Hudson Taylor of AthleteAlly – speaking on LGBT in Athletics. The panel is on Friday, October 12th, in New York City.
“I feel as if a conference like this can keep the ball rolling,” says Wade. “It can keep affecting change.”
For more information on the StraightTalk conference and Wade’s panel, visit the site here.