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Wade Davis: From the NFL to the Hetrick-Martin Institute
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 06/05/12
Last updated on: 06/06/12
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Wade Davis.

Congratulations to Wade Davis, a former NFL player who now works at New York's Hetrick-Martin Institute, on his recent openness about the challenges of being closeted in the National Football League. In interviews with OutSports.com and the sports network SB Nation, Davis has discussed how he separated his football life from his real life during his stint in the NFL.

Davis was not an NFL star, but he did attend training camps and played in preseason games for the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks, and Washington Redskins from 2000 to 2003. He had a more successful career with the NFL Europe teams, the Berlin Thunder and Barcelona Dragons.

In an extraordinary feature story-cum-interview by Cyd Zeigler, Jr. at OutSports on June 5, 2012, Davis discusses not only his football years, but also his transition from a closeted football player to an out and proud "job preparedness coach" at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, the provider of social support and programming for at-risk lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning youth.

Zeigler observes that even years after coming out to close friends, Davis kept the glbtq community at arm's length, especially the gender-nonconforming young people with whom he now works.

However, when Zeigler asks him his reason for leaving the competitive sports world for a non-profit job working with youth he might have taunted when he was their age, Davis responds by posing his own question, "How many people get to live out their two dreams? I got to play in the NFL, and now I get to change the world."

In the course of the interview, Davis explains how he worked hard to make himself a popular teammate in the NFL, but at the cost of concealing his real self. "You just want to be one of the guys, and you don't want to lose that sense of family," Davis says. "Your biggest fear is that you'll lose that camaraderie and family."

Although some of Davis's former teammates have told Zeigler that Davis's sexual orientation would not have been a problem, Davis remembers whispers about a player on the team thought to be bisexual. At least one teammate told Davis he should steer clear of the player, lest he hurt his chances of making the team.

Davis's time playing in the NFL Europe was more enjoyable for him because during those years, while remaining closeted to his teammates, he nevertheless began dating men.

"I started to think it was possible for me to have a partner and play football at the same time, even if it was done covertly," Davis says. "I felt normal for the first time."

When he suffered an injury in 2003, he knew that his football life was over and that his "real life" could begin. "I had this football life, but I didn't have another life away from that. Most of the guys had a family and a wife, but I had football and nothing else."

By joining an amateur gay flag football team in 2006, Davis was, as Zeigler says, "finally able to marry his sexual orientation with his inner athlete." He led the New York Warriors to three straight Gay Bowls and was named the MVP of the tournament his first year.

Davis experienced a spiritual awakening playing with the New York Gay Football League. There he became acquainted with the whole range of the glbtq community and assumed the role of mentor. "It's a role," Zeigler writes, "that would change his life."

Indeed, Zeigler sees a direct line from Davis's volunteering to help disenfranchised glbtq adults play football to his current work with youth.

"It's the first job since football that I wake up excited for work," Davis says of his job at the Hetrick-Martin Institute. "For these kids, the question isn't whether they are shooting a basketball well, it's whether they have a place to sleep tonight, whether they've eaten today. Sports is less significant than what I see these youth go through every day."

Cyd Zeigler's article at OutSports needs to be read in its entirety.

In the video below, Amy K. Nelson of SB Nation talks with Wade Davis.

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