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- ‘Really, Really Messed Up My Life’
Real Talk With Wade Davis
Recently, I had the pleasure to talk with Mr. Wade Davis, executive director for the You Can Play Project, gay rights advocate and former NFL player. Everything was on the table and in a phrase, ‘we went there,’ discussing gay men in the NFL, his non-profit work, his days as a bully, and his fitness regimen that keeps him sane.
“Back in high school, we played the game ‘smear the queer’ – I had no idea what queer meant. But I knew it was not something good. I had an inkling that I was gay (10th grade) and I had shame. I became this thing that people hated.”
In fact, the need to protect one’s self-image and manage the self-loathing can be immensely powerful. Consider how many elected officials and clergy publicly malign gay and lesbian individuals only to later learn they themselves struggle with sexual identity and their own sexual orientation. For Davis, he confessed that he targeted others who secretly reminded him of his secret identity.
“I bullied the one gay kid in school because he was everything that I was not…and wanted to be. He was out, he was courageous, etc. That still bothers me.”
But it would be his NFL career that also came with highs and the unexpected. We all know the professional football culture is extreme and for Davis, he said, “I had no idea what to expect. Once you make it to the pros, there is no way to assume people would accept you if they believe you are weaker…and gay was equal to being weaker based on experiences I had in school, you could be a target.”
But today, after his NFL career, with teams like the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks, Davis says the NFL is coming around to players coming out. And that’s a good thing.
“The sports culture is slowly changing, even parts of the conservative black community are open to this conversation and we must have an honest conversation.”
Ironically, his work leading the You Can Play Project, pushing toward eradicating homophobia in sports culture is his motivating passion. There’s always likelihood the next promising gay athlete could be a black athlete. You Can Play Project seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive spirit.
“I try not to lump all black people into a monolithic group. Black people are not always homophobic. I think what happens in the black church is that we don’t have these conversations about sexuality. And we should seize the opportunity.”
And whether it’s a media appearance, speaking engagement, or in the community trenches with You Can Play, Mr. Davis still has the look of an athlete. What’s the secret?
“Well, from the time I was in 10th grade, I worked out several times a week. Now, I work out 3x a week. But I’ve had 3 knee surgeries, a torn hamstring, so it’s not as intense.” Managing his fast-paced schedule, he also credits Pilates, mental self care, and just sitting in stillness from time to time.
To learn more about the You Can Play Project, click here.
Walker Tisdale III, MPH, MA is the Editor-in-Chief of Healthyblackmen.org and recently launched the not-for-profit, Health Institute for Men. He resides in Atlanta, GA.