The possibility of having an openly gay player in the NFL–and ultimately, the lack of an openly gay player in the NFL–is a discussion that will surface periodically.
It’s a conversation that’s now come to the attention of the mainstream media twice in just the past two weeks, first through comments from rookies and retired players who said they would welcome an openly gay player, and now from the reflections of a marginal player who fought and failed to make several teams during training camps a decade ago, and has since come out.
Wade Davis was a nobody in the NFL, and yet he was also everybody. In some ways he represents the determination it takes to make an NFL roster, even if his efforts eventually failed. When training camps open at the end of July we’ll do what we always do: focus on names, the progress of changing schemes, and position battles. With the exception of the few minutes of fame they receive on Hard Knocks, we pay little attention to the undrafted player who’s clawing for a roster spot, or hoping–hoping–to be given an opportunity on the practice squad.
Davis was that player during training camp tryouts, first with the Titans, and then with the Redskins and Seahawks after he had starred in NFL Europe. He’s gay, and in an extensive interview with Out Sports he said that during training camp with the Titans in 2000 he hid his sexuality because people liked him, and even as an undrafted rookie he had quickly won the respect of his teammates.
That respect went so deep that Samari Rolle would later invite Davis to his wedding, even though Davis was eventually cut from the Titans and never played with Rolle. Davis was afraid to take a risk even with people he had already grown to trust, and even on a Titans team that featured Jevon Kearse and Eddie George, two of the players quoted in the story linked above who said they would easily accept an openly gay teammate.
Kearse, George, and others were no doubt being genuine both now and then. But as a player teetering on the edge of an NFL roster, Davis was hesitant nonetheless, and an anecdote he recalled while speaking with Cyd Zeigler Jr. of Out Sports explained why.
Despite the vocal support a decade after the fact, Davis remembers whispers about a player on the team whom others thought was bisexual. At least one teammate told Davis he should steer clear of the guy, lest it hurt his chances of making the team.
“They’d say, ‘You know what Wade? You have a chance to make this team. You probably shouldn’t associate with that guy,’” Davis remembers. “It wasn’t said as though [his bisexuality] was a bad thing, it was just that I should not let this perception be on my shoulders too.”
That was 12 years ago, and now rookie players–who represent the NFL’s youth, and the minds who will control future progress–are widely saying they would accept an openly gay teammate. They’re hopefully planting the seed that will make the hesitation Davis had disappear.
And the stigma.
Pic via SB Nation