Wade Davis speaks as openly gay athlete
Published: Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 02:10
Activist and former National Football League (NFL) player Wade Davis spoke last night in Distler Performance Hall about his personal experience as a gay athlete.
The ticketed lecture, titled “Interference: When Masculinity and Being Gay Collide,” was co-sponsored by the Social Justice Leadership Initiative and Tufts University’s Entertainment Board and lasted about an hour.
After a brief introduction from the event sponsors, Davis began the discussion with a description of his youth. As a boy growing up in Arkansas, Davis spent most of his time at church. His first football game, at age seven, was a variation of the sport called “smear the queer,” in which one kid — the “queer” — had to get a touchdown before the other players tackled him.
“That was my first understanding of what you did to queer people,” Davis said. “You smeared them.”
Through playing ball with other boys, Davis learned how to be a tough guy and only showed his gentler side while at home, he said. Despite his tough appearance, however, Davis suffered from a speech impediment and stutter and experienced much taunting as a child.
Davis was in 10th grade when he first realized he was gay. Afraid of his feelings, Davis said he began watching straight porn and bullying other homosexual men in an attempt to distance himself from his sexuality.
“Anyone else in my high school that we deemed different, we made fun of,” Davis said. “I remember when Columbine happened, I thought to myself, ‘If I had gone to that school, I would have been one who was killed ... because anyone who was different was my target.”
Even after kissing a boy for the first time in college, Davis denied his sexuality by dating women and attending strip clubs. While his actions were meant to make his peers believe he was masculine and straight, he ended up using many women in the process, Davis explained.
“I couldn’t exist in this world straight on my own,” he said. “All of my baggy pants and other garb couldn’t make me straight, but a female did.”
After college, Davis was signed to the NFL — first to the Tennessee Titans and then to the Washington Redskins and was relieved that his coaches and teammates had “bought” his heterosexual persona. Until he blew out his knee and was forced to retire, Davis spent much of his time and money at strip clubs and brothels in order to keep his fellow players from suspecting him of being anything other than straight.
“I didn’t know how to show the rest of the world who I was unless I was doing things that I think real men do,” he said.
Finally, after moving to New York City, Davis began to accept his sexuality. He eventually met his current partner, Steven, and decided to reveal his identity to his parents. While his sister was supportive, Davis’s mother was initially horrified by the news that her son was gay.
“My mother told me she wished I would rot in jail forever rather than to have to tell her I was gay,” Davis said. “She told me a lot of horrible things. But I didn’t cry and I didn’t get angry because I expected it. I knew my mother well enough to understand what her reaction would be.”
After many discussions, Davis’s mother eventually began to accept him, he said.
Davis later began working with the Hentrick Martin Institute (HMI), an organization that serves LGBT youth in need of a supportive environment.
“That was the place where I saw true love, true strength,” Davis said. “They taught me how to love myself because they woke up every day, and existed in this world as themselves.”
Grateful to the young people he had met at HMI, Davis began working for the You Can Play Project, an organization that works to limit homophobia in sports settings. He also co-founded You Belong, a camp that works to connect LGBT youth and straight LGBT allies with professional athletes to encourage diversity.
“It’s adult’s responsibility, like mine, to create the space where [youth] can have their promise realized,” he said.
Davis ended the presentation with a ‘thank you’ to the audience.
“You all — just by the virtue of being here — you care,” he said. “I’m truly grateful to be here.”