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Former NFL player Wade Davis comes out of the closet

3:01 PM, Jun 5, 2012   |    comments
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By Nate Davis, USA TODAY

Wade Davis works at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which serves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning youth in New York.

If it seems like a unique occupation for a former NFL player, it probably is ... especially since Davis is one of those rare ex-players who's come out of the closet.

The former cornerback's name isn't a well-known one, but Davis did attend training camps and even played in preseason games as a member of the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins from 2000 to 2003. He never stuck on a regular-season roster but did earn stints in NFL Europe with the Berlin Thunder and Barcelona Dragons.

In interviews with OutSports and SBNation, Wade Davis, 34, talked about the challenges of being closeted in an NFL locker room.

"I think subconsciously, I understood that being gay -- the way I was raised -- was wrong, and there was no way that my family, at least in my mind, would accept me," Davis told SBNation's Amy Nelson. "And also that my football family would (not) accept me just because of the perception of being gay meant that you're less masculine."

That meant holding himself back personally even as he grew close to heterosexual teammates like the Titans' Jevon Kearse and Samari Rolle.

"You just want to be one of the guys, and you don't want to lose that sense of family," Davis told OutSports. "Your biggest fear is that you'll lose that camaraderie and family. I think about how close I was with Jevon and Samari. It's not like they'd like me less, it's that they have to protect their own brand."

Kearse recently showed support to gay athletes in a separate interview with OutSports and suggested the NFL might be ready to accept homosexual players in the locker room.

But Davis, who also now does campaign work for President Obama, never felt comfortable treading on what's essentially been taboo ground in professional team sports, at least for active players. He was even advised to avoid another unidentified player on the Titans who was labeled as "different" with the thought that such an association would jeopardize Davis' ability to make the team.

"There was a part of me that was a little relieved because, when I knew football was over, my life would begin," Davis said to OutSports. "I had this football life, but I didn't have another life away from that. Most of the guys had a family and a wife, but I had football and nothing else."

He says he first realized he was gay in 11th grade.

"I can remember being in gym class and having the desire to look at a boy in a way that I should look at girls," he told SBNation.

If that sounds like a red flag to players who might be skittish with him in their inner circle, Davis says it absolutely shouldn't be the case.

"At never a point (during) my NFL playing career did I take advantage of the privilege that I had to see a man naked. I never even remotely got aroused in the locker room. It's a place where those guys are your family, and the last thing that you want to do is make anyone in your family feel uncomfortable. It's not even a thought," he said.

"I think the players have to understand that there's nothing that's gonna happen."
What hasn't happened so far is a pro player in a major North American pro league to reveal he's gay during his career. And even Davis admits that might fall to a star player rather than a fringe one like he was even though he hopes someone steps out in the near future.

"I'm gonna be flat-out honest with you, it probably shouldn't (be a reserve player) if he wants to keep his job," he said. "If he's the 53rd man on the roster, if he's a free agent who's fighting for a job, maybe he shouldn't. I would hope that he would."

Is such a courageous step in the offing?

"I can't say it's in the next five or 10 years, but I definitely think it's on the horizon," says Davis, who came out himself only recently.

"I started to realize that, 'You know what? There's an opportunity here for me to really make and affect change -- not only with myself but with the world.'"

USA TODAY

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