Profile: David Kopay, The First Openly Gay Professional Football Plkayer

What with it being SuperBowl Sunday and all the shit thats going down thnaks to CBS being a bunch of douchebags I thought it would be appropriate to remember Dave Kopay who nearly 35 years ago became the FIRST professional football player and athlete in the three major sports to reveal his homosexuality, sending shock waves throughout his macho and homophobic surroundings.

“It seems now that the sports world is the last protector of the faith to be bigoted and discriminate,” Kopay told the Post-Intelligencer in an interview 10 years ago. “It’s certainly breaking down everywhere else. We have become mainstream in terms of politics. Maybe (it will happen in sports) in the next 20 years. (Perhaps we should up that number.)

“I didn’t think it was going to take this long.”

Kopay played for the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins, retiring in 1972 after a productive nine-year pro career. His private affairs were known to few.

On Dec. 10, 1975, Kopay read the first installment of a newspaper series on gays in sports in the now-defunct Washington Star, a story based solely on anonymous sources. He decided insight was needed. Kopay brashly called Star reporter Lynn Rosellini, daughter of former Washington Gov. Albert Rosellini, and agreed to discuss his homosexuality in print two days later, using his name.

A year later, he wrote a book, “The David Kopay Story,” a New York Times best-seller that was updated in 1988 and is headed for a third printing next spring.

“My life is a lot more fulfilled,” he said. “One of the things that made me speak out was I felt suffocated. I thought I could do something right.”

Kopay once estimated between five and 10 percent of all NFL players were homosexual, numbers that matched the general population at the time, numbers he assumes have increased over the past two and a half decades. Fears of public backlash, endorsement losses and ruined careers, he says, have kept today’s football-minded gays in the closet.

“They’re so nervous about the sports page,” he said. “I remember the letters I got, ‘How dare you speak about homosexuals on the sports page!'”

To his face, Kopay never received a negative reaction from former teammates, though he heard some were privately disgusted.

Rick Redman was a Husky teammate and an NFL linebacker, a player known for his conservative bent. He showed support for Kopay.

“I remember the level of intensity and toughness that he showed on the field,” Redman said. “From a player’s standpoint, I had a great deal of respect for the kind of attitude he brought to the playing environment. When you have that kind of respect for people, the decisions they make in their personal life are often times easy to accept.

“I kind of felt that way about Dave. Coming out took a lot of conviction.”

Kopay often travels around the country, fulfilling speaking engagements. When Reggie White, then of the Green Bay Packers, criticized nearly every diverse group in a public forum years ago, Kopay responded with a thoughtful, open letter that was published in the New York Times, refuting each of White’s points.

Kopay has advised high school and college football players who have sought him out on gay matters, but there has been no interaction with current NFL members.

Mixing pro football and homosexuality, Kopay often times finds himself a lone voice. He has no regrets. He envisions the day when no one cares about a player’s sexual preference.

In the meantime still to this day, Kopay fills the busy role of gay athlete activist. He’s a true gay pioneer.


Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist and owner of A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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