Wade Davis, Jr.—the former National Football League (NFL) player turned educator, writer, LGBT activist, and hero—has recently garnered national attention for being one of the few former NFL athletes who have publically come out as gay. He has been featured on OutSports.com, on CNN as a guest of Soledad O’Brien, on Chuck Scarborough’s NBC program, BET.com, and several other notable media outlets. And while many are interested in his life as a “closeted” Black professional athlete and his new work as a prominent advocate in his role as an LGBT Surrogate for the Obama Campaign, there is much more about Wade’s story that is heroic.
Below is a portion of an inspirational conversation that I shared with Wade. The dialogue is centered on his journey from his childhood in the Southern United States to his life as a professional football player and educator now living in New York City. Wade is a true hero, one who aspires toward greatness and inspires others to be great, and I am grateful that he decided to take the time to share a bit of himself with us here.
EBONY: Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Have you always been a dreamer and hard worker?
Wade: I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, but I spent most of my earlier life in Shreveport, Louisiana. I was very sheltered as a child because I was such a momma’s boy. I grew up in the Baptist church and did something “churchy” at least 4 to 5 times per week. Even though I was captivated by all that I experienced in the church, I was a very curious child and questioned everything; which got me into a lot of mischief and resulted in numerous spankings.
I don’t know if I would have considered myself a dreamer, only because I wasn’t exposed to much outside of my own little Louisiana bubble, but I definitely understood what it meant to be a hard-worker because everyone in my family worked hard especially my mother and grandmother. Also, I was very small and skinny as a kid, so I knew that because of my stature I would have to work hard to prove myself.
EBONY: Can you recall the moment in your childhood or teenage years when it became clear to you the path that you would take? When did you have that experience?
Existing at the intersection of Black manhood, Black masculinity, sexuality and sports was the most dangerous place in the world.
Wade: I didn’t experience a specific defining moment in my childhood when I knew the exact direction my life would take. I knew I was a good athlete but I didn’t think I was ever good enough to play in the NFL. But around the age of 27, a friend of mine told me that I inspired him and I inspired the entire New York gay football league. He went on to say that if I don’t use my gift and voice to help change the minds of many then I might as well cease to exist. His honesty stayed with me for days and I knew I needed to finally listen to what others had been saying and stop being so afraid. This was the first time when I had a sense of clarity for my life and my destiny.
EBONY: You worked diligently and eventually made it into the National Football League (NFL). Can you share a bit about your journey: the lessons, the challenges and the triumphs?
Wade: My journey to the NFL was a joyful and shocking one because it was not until a scout showed up at practice during my senior year that I believed I was good enough to play in the NFL. Yes, I wished for it, but I didn’t think the NFL was a reality for me. As I mentioned before, I wasn’t much of a dreamer in that sense but I did wish for the opportunity (In my mind dreaming and wishing are completely different).
Hmmmm, lessons – one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned, and it may be cliché, but I live by a quote my defensive back coach told me, “‘Hard work doesn’t guarantee you anything, but without it you don’t stand a chance.” So once I realized I had a chance to play, I worked my butt off to make my opportunity a reality. There were a myriad of challenges: I didn’t know much about the whole process leading up to making it into the NFL; I was trying to overcome the idea that even though I being from a “small school” meant that I wasn’t good enough to play at the NFL level; I had my own personal identity issues to sort out that were starting to come to the surface more and more; and I was scared shitless that I had this major opportunity but thought that I might not be good enough. My