Wade Davis, Jr: Former NFL Player Turned LGBT Advocate

Wade Davis, Jr: Former NFL Player Turned LGBT Advocate

The football hero-turned educator discusses his journey from the closet to the front lines

by Darnell L. Moore, June 22, 2012

Wade Davis, Jr: Former NFL Player Turned LGBT Advocate

Wade Davis, Jr.

biggest triumph was getting cut from a team, but walking out of the faculty knowing that I was just cut because of politics, not because I lacked talent.  That might sound crazy to some but I was one of the most gratifying moments in my entire life.

EBONY: Can you say a bit about Black manhood, Black masculinity, and sexuality as they are understood and performed within the sports industry. In other words, what was it like playing professional football as a Black man, as a Black gay man?

Wade: For me, existing at the intersection of Black manhood, Black masculinity, sexuality and sports was the most dangerous place in the world. As an athlete you have to consistently prove yourself; as a Black male athlete, “I” felt the pressure to consistently prove myself, my masculinity and my sexuality. I lived under a microscope, at least I thought, and I never had the opportunity to just be myself within the confines of a never-ending cycle of masculine performance. I was never alone. I was never able to relax. And I was never my authentic self.  I felt so much pressure. Some of it was self-imposed and I was socialized to believe that pressure was part of the game. I knew I was expected to have sex with women, to engage in conversations that were, either, sexist, racist, or homophobic.  I felt the need to prove that I belonged in that sports fraternity and that I was just as masculine as everyone else.  Though I understood my sexuality at the time I played football, I didn’t know any other way to exist except by exhibiting the same behaviors as everyone else. I got really annoyed when people would say, “Oh, just be yourself”.  I didn’t know who that “self” was and being in such a hyper-masculine environment and knowing that as a Black man I was already viewed and treated as being hypersexual. Did I really have a choice, if I wanted to fit in and participate in a sport I loved? Sometimes you just want to fit in and be comfortable, you know?  As an athlete, I already felt alone and I didn’t want to further isolate myself by coming out and risk being removed from my football family, too.

EBONY: You now work for the Hetrick-Martin Institute, the nation's oldest and largest LGBTQ youth serving organization. Why did you decide to move into education? What motivates you to go to work every day?

Wade: I’m truly humbled by the opportunity to work at the Hetrick-Martin Institute. My move into education was prompted by the comment I mentioned earlier about having the ability to inspire others and also wanting to really make a difference. Not just giving money but giving my time, getting my hands dirty and trying to understand what the LGBTQ youth of today go through and then really being able to affect change.

Going to work every day is the easiest thing in the world. In fact, if we have a day off, I’m dreaming (yes I dream now) about working with, inspiring and being inspired by these young people.  They are some of the most thoughtful, caring and beautiful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of being around.  These young people are so gifted and just want a chance to have a voice in the world and it’s my charge to help give them the opportunity to have their voice heard.

EBONY: What does your family think about your “coming out” and new work? Where do find support?

Wade: My family has been a mixed bag of support, but the majority of my family is extremely supportive and excited. There are a few family members due who will not discuss the issue and try to have very surface relationships with me because of their religious beliefs.  I'm really trying to maintain those relationships even though there isn’t much depth to them, but that is an extremely daunting task because my life isn't surface and the support that I need from them isn't surface. Those relationships are fragile because of this.  Thankfully I've found support from a myriad of other people -- whether it be my partner of 5 years, my co-workers, or my friends -- I've created a new family here in NY and that was my goal when I initially moved to NYC.  But most recently the support and strength comes from the youth I work with at the Hetrick-Martin Institute. The strength and courage they exhibit on a daily basis gives me strength and though they don't know it -- they are my heroes.  The smiles, hugs, and love they freely offer to me are paramount in this current phase of my life.

EBONY: Are you still active in sports?

Wade: Yes, although I need to retire because my body is in shambles. I

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