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Conversations on sexuality have always been loaded and plagued by heated arguments. Some people view others who don’t identify strictly as heterosexual with intrigue, confusion, and at the extreme, with hate and disgust. The simple truth of the matter is that gay people exist; they are here, they have always been here, and will continue to remain.
Celebrities have made the news for decades because of their sexuality and athletes are not exempt. There are a good number of NFL football players who are gay, but you just never guessed it. Some of these players have tried to keep this very private aspect of their lives away from the public, while others are finally coming out of the closet – thanks to the growing vocal LGBTQ community. Here are 10 gay NFL players you probably never knew were sexually attracted to people of their own gender.
Gay NFL Players You Never Knew
10. Kwame Harris
The Jamaican born footballer might not have been the most talented offensive tackle in the league, but he was good enough to get dragged in the first round by the San Francisco 49ers in 2003. Throughout his six-season NFL career, he remained a starter during most games. By all accounts, he was a fantastic player, although he often struggled with blocking defensive play or protecting passes, issues that contributed to his early retirement from the Oakland Raiders after one season instead of three.
Kwame Harris was one of the first crops of football players to come out publicly as gay, although the way he did it was quite unsavory. Kwame broke the news about his sexuality after he was arrested and charged with battery against a former boyfriend and lover. He made an official admission to being gay during an interview with CNN following the incident. Since then, Harris has lent his voice to fighting against heterosexual NFL players who claim that sharing a locker room with gay men make them uncomfortable. Still, owing to the stereotypical image of gay people, he has remained one of the gay NFL players people are unwilling to accept that they are really homosexuals.
9. Esera Tuaolo
Tuaolo lasted 10 years in the NFL, playing in the position of defensive tackle for five NFL teams. He was picked in the second round of the 1991 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, where he went on to become the first rookie in their history to start all games in a season. Moving on the following year, he played for the Minnesota Vikings until 1996, before moving to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Atlanta Falcons, and finally, the Carolina Panthers.
Most people wouldn’t have guessed that Tuaolo was gay until he came out on the popular sports show, Real Sports. He then went on The Show to spread his announcement and has never looked back since then. The footballer is a passionate advocate for gay rights. He testified against anti-gay marriage laws and has disapproved of the NFL’s attitude towards homosexuality. Tuaolo dated his boyfriend Mitchell Wheeler for 10 years until things went sour.
8. Wade Davis
Wade Davis is a lot of things; speaker, educator, writer, activist, and more popularly, a football player. He joined the NFL as part of the Tennessee Titans and as an undrafted free agent in 2000 but didn’t make it past preseason. He went on to do the same with the Washington Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks, before joining the Berlin Thunder, and the Barcelona Dragons, where he played two full seasons. He had to retire from the NFL after he suffered a leg injury.
Wade was one of the gay NFL players in the closet until he came out in 2012 and talked openly about how he had to hide his sexual identity from his teammates while he was in the league. Wade is a prominent activist for LGBTQ rights. He works with several organizations fighting against homophobia in sport, for inclusivity and diversity, as well as supporting and creating a strong community for LGBTQ professionals of color to thrive.
7. Dave Kopay
In his heydays, David Kopay was a running back in the NFL. He got drafted to join the San Francisco 49ers in 1964 and went on to play for four other teams before retiring his jersey. While many might remember this NFL player for his impressive talent on the field, not a lot of people know that Kopay was the first bigwig professional athlete to come out as gay in any sport. He told his story of being a closeted gay man in the NFL at a time when homosexuality was considered an illness by most of society.
Despite having retired from football before his big announcement, Kopay continued to suffer discrimination and was considered an outcast in the sports community. In fact, he was denied coaching opportunities because of his sexuality for many years after. Kopay didn’t let the adversity get him down, he wrote a best-selling autobiographical novel, and has inspired other athletes to embrace their sexual orientation. He admitted to having a secret affair with another popular NFL player, Jerry Smith. If you ask us, he’s the boldest of all gay NFL players.
6. Ray McDonald
Ray McDonald was a running back who got picked to play for the Washington Redskins in the first round of the 1967 NFL Draft. He was personally selected by the owner of the team at the time, Edward Bennett Williams. A year later, the footballer was arrested after he was caught having sex with a man in public. It was this arrest that publicized Ray’s sexual orientation as a gay man.
Surprisingly, this information did not affect his standing in the team, thanks to Coach Lombardi who assumed control of the team, and implemented a very strict no discrimination policy in the locker rooms or out in the field. Lombardi would eventually fire Ray because the player showed up for a meeting late, and the running back never played another game after that. Ray was stabbed by a lover of his in 1986, which led to him being hospitalized. He was diagnosed with HIV and died of AIDS complication a few years later.
5. Ryan O’Callaghan
Ryan was drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots in the position of offensive tackle. He later went on to play for the Kansas City Chiefs. The footballer recently came out as gay, talking about his struggle to accept himself, and how he tried to mask his sexual orientation with football, a very macho sport, in an interview with Outsports.
According to the player, he was tormented by the thought that no one would ever accept or love him for who he is, so when his only lifeline, football was snatched away by a terrible injury, he was ready to end his life. He wrote a suicide note in preparation, but fortunately, he began seeing a therapist who encouraged him to come out to his family and teammates. They were very supportive, and since then, Ryan hasn’t shied away from talking about his experiences as one of the gay NFL players.
4. Dorien Bryant
Dorien Bryant was one of the finest footballers when he was in college playing for the Purdue Boilermakers. Although he wasn’t picked in the 2008 NFL Draft, he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a free agent but was later dropped. Dorien turned down offers to join the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans thereafter. In facts, he has not been a part of the NFL since then but it is believed that he still plays the game in the National Gay Flag Football League and for the Philadelphia Revolution.
Dorien came out as gay in 2013 during an interview with Philadelphia Magazine. He talked about being a football player and the amount of time he spent trying to hide his sexuality. While he was at Purdue University, he dated a male cheerleader who threatened to out him after the relationship went awry. The footballer denied he was gay when the news broke, but that didn’t stop him from being taunted and made fun of during games. Eventually, he decided he no longer wanted to live in hiding for the rest of his life. Dorien is openly gay now and seems to be better for it.
3. Roy Simmons
The football player nicknamed Sugar Bear played as an offensive lineman for the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants. He was picked by the latter in the eighth round of the 1979 draft.
Roy managed to keep details about his sexual orientation a secret during the course of his career, it was after he was well into retirement that he came out as gay on The Phil Donahue Show. He was the second former NFL player to do so. In 1997, Roy found out he was HIV positive. He began treatment and went on to publish a best selling memoir called Out of Bounds: Coming Out of Sexual Abuse, Addiction and My Life of Lies in the NFL. Roy became ill in 2014 and had bouts of pneumonia before dying of complications.
2. Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith was a star athlete. He played tight end for the Washington Redskins and retired with a record of 60 career touchdowns, the highest by a tight end. It was a feat that stayed unbroken until 26 years later.
He remained a closeted gay man throughout his career and only a few people knew about his sexuality until he revealed to the Washington Post that he was dying of AIDS. Less than two months later, the footballer passed away and details about his lifestyle were written and documented in NFL’s A Football Life series. His sexual orientation was confirmed by fellow teammate, Dave Kopay who had a relationship with him.
1. Michael Sam
Michael Sam made history by becoming the first openly gay player to get drafted into the NFL. The defensive end disclosed to ESPN that he was gay in 2014 while he was still in college. Michael claimed that his sexuality was more of an open secret and, that many of his teammates knew he was gay.
In fact, he once kissed his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano on camera after he got picked by the St. Louis Rams. Since his coming out, Michael has been working with other LGBTQ advocacy organizations to ensure that discrimination in sports ceases to be a thing.