When former NFL player Wade Davis was in 10th grade he wondered and worried why he was attracted to men and not women.
It was his secret, one nobody was ever going to know.
“I never even thought about coming out,” he said. “This was going to be a secret I would take to my grave.”
It wasn’t until years after Davis retired from the game and removed himself from the sporting frontier completely that he could begin to even remotely entertain the idea he was gay, nevermind share it with the rest of the world.
“It took getting away from the noise. Sports was noise,” he said. “Living around my family was noise. I had to move to New York where almost no one knew me to create space to believe I could finally come out.”
The once silent, somewhat insecure gay man living in fear of his secret being exposed couldn’t be living a more different life today.
He’s open, out, proud and confident. Davis is a You Can Play ambassador, feminist, and an NFL inclusion consultant. He’s relentless in his activism in making sporting spaces more inclusive for all walks of life.
“I work with players, teams, managements to get them to understand why it’s important to create culture within the NFL and all sports, that allows people can show up as themselves,” Davis said. “If a player is gay, they can be that. If a player wants to have a discussion around race, they can have that.
“The way I move around this world, my creativity, the work I do, will never be as great if I’m doing that in silence or if I’m doing it in the proverbial closet.”
The cost of silence is great
Davis says there’s not only a personal loss in staying silent and hiding aspects of oneself, but he says there’s also a cost to the public as a whole.
“And the cost is not just to me as an individual but it’s a cost to the world. The world misses out on so much when people can’t be themselves.”
Coming out when Davis was playing professional football was never even something he thought about. It was a non-starter. Contrast that to the story of Michael Sam.
In 2014, the Missouri All-American became the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL. The media circus that followed was suffocating and at times too much for Sam. Many questioned his decision to come out. Some believed it affected his prospects of being signed by an NFL team.