Wade Davis, the 40-year-old football player who spent three years in the NFL, carried around a secret during his stint with the sport: he’s gay.
Davis began his career as an undrafted free agent who was eventually signed by the Tennessee Titans and then in the NFL’s now-defunct European League. He retired in 2003 from a leg injury. Although he enjoyed his time as a football player, he harbored the secret of his sexuality for his entire career.
On explaining his experience in the league, Davis said, “It was moments of heaven and then moments of hell, and those moments could flip-flop from one second to the other. I could be out on the football field at practice making a really beautiful play, and then I’d go watch myself on film and think how gay I look. It was tragic.”
Davis officially came out in 2012 and since then, has been an advocate for feminism and combatting homophobia. He cites his influence as a football player as a major incentive for him to speak out about important issues.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, he said, “The amount of privilege that being an NFL player gives you is in-f**king-measurable.”
Davis is utilizing that privilege by not only advocating for LGBT+ and women’s rights but also by acting as the NFL’s first inclusion consultant. As part of this job, Davis tries to address racism, sexism, and homophobia in the industry.
He also works for other organizations like You Can Play which promotes equality for LGBT+ athletes and the United Nations’s Global Innovative Coalition for Change. Additionally, he frequently advises Google and other Fortune 500 companies on how to better address inclusion in their workspaces.
Although he is now very proud of his identity and encourages other people to feel the same, he struggled when he played for the NFL.
In the same interview with HuffPost, Davis said,
“[Playing in the NFL] was one of the greatest times in my life and it was also one of the most traumatic. I was doing this thing that I had dreamed about doing my whole life and I was doing it decently well. I was living out a childhood dream. But at the same time I was also intentionally trying to kill and destroy a part of myself. It was like being schizophrenic. The other aspect of my NFL experience I wish more people understood is that I wasn’t out because of the NFL. I wasn’t not out because of college, I wasn’t not out because of football. I was not out because of what the world had conditioned me to believe about gay people. I didn’t really even understand like what it meant to be gay. I didn’t understand that I could have a future. I didn’t have the skill set to deal with being gay when I was in high school, when I was in college, and when I was in the pros. So by that point in my life, I had made a decision that there was no way in hell I was going to risk my dream on something that I really didn’t understand.”
He hopes that younger people who are struggling like he was can practice self-love in order to appreciate themselves more. He also encourages young LGBT+ people to align themselves with women, especially those who are part of marginalized or immigrant communities, because he says “the work of making the world a better space always starts with women.”