Political football: Why Wade Davis coming out matters

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In a 2007 op-ed for ESPN, LZ Granderson, the prolific sports writer and CNN commentator, opined, “”When will somebody simply man up? That is, come out while he is still playing and finally demystify this whole gay athlete thing once and for all.”

At the time Granderson was offering a critical take on John Amaechi, the former NBA player who revealed he was gay—but only after retiring from pro-sports. “Get over it,” Granderson concluded: exhausted of the tired rhetoric about how difficult it was to be both gay and successful in professional athletics. The question is valid and, five years later, remains unanswered; but the world…”it is a changing”.

From that lofty perch of intellectual exercise, Granderson may not have imagined that an African-American president would be seated in the Oval Office and vocalizing support for gay marriage rights; yet that is the world in which we live. Old attitudes are evolving in a positive, inclusive direction. President Barack Obama has done more to promote equality for gay and lesbian Americans than all of his predecessors combined.

Following Obama’s historic announcement a few weeks ago, even the NAACP and icons like music mogul Jay-Z announced their support for the president’s decision and expressed the belief that gay rights are human rights, deserving of equal respect.

It seems serendipitous that such a proclamation would come from the first African-American president, especially given the unique history that blacks have in leading the path to civil rights and equality in the United States. But the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same; curiously, of all the major figures in African-American life that vocally supported Obama’s stance, members of the NBA and NFL largely have remained silent.

This week, Wade Davis, a former NFL cornerback back for the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks, offered an exclusive interview to Outsports.com, in which he discussed the fact that he is gay and currently working as a mentor to LBGT youth. Davis, who struggled during his four-year career, was eventually sidelined by injuries; but the journey ultimately led him to a fulfilling destiny. Although Davis’ story still fits Granderson’s narrative on coming out after the fact, there is something worthy and progressive here that is unique.

“You just want to be one of the guys, and you don’t want to lose that sense of family,” Davis said in the interview, speaking of close friendships he developed with fellow players Jevon Kearse and Samari Rolle. “Your biggest fear is that you’ll lose that camaraderie and family.”

Speaking to CNN’s Soledad O’Brien yesterday, Davis said, “It takes up every bit of space trying to understand the game of football…at the NFL level and then trying to hide who I was for such a long, long time. I became a great actor. I should get an Oscar for it, honestly.”

Unlike the tired down low meta-narrative often told of African-American males and athletes, Davis shared something more; that as his career took him to the NFL in Europe he made bold strides forward — forming a loving, honest relationship which opened his eyes to the possibility of love.

“I started to think it was possible for me to have a partner and play football at the same time,” Davis says. “I felt normal for the first time.”