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Gay History: August 26, 1986: Former Washington Redskin Jerry Smith Announces He Has AIDS

August 26, 1986: Jerry Smith, former Washington Redskins tight end, is the first celebrity to voluntarily acknowledge that he has AIDS.

Jerry Smith was the Redskins’ tight end from 1965-77. He retired with 60 touchdown receptions, which was more than any player to play that position until Shannon Sharpe broke the mark 27 years later

Smith was 6-foot-3 but weighed only 210 pounds. He looked, ran and caught like a wide receiver. Nobody questioned his tight-end toughness.

But on August 26, 1986 as he lay in a bed at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Springs, MD where he was fighting for his life against the deadly disease AIDS he weighed only 150 pounds.

Smith decided to go public with his diagnosis in the Washington Post because in his words: “I want people to know what I’ve been through and how terrible this disease is. Maybe it will help people understand. Maybe it will help with development in research. Maybe something positive will come out of this.”

One of the most recognizable and popular Redskins of his era, Smith also was one of the most respected and private. and never talked about his sexuality.

Smith’s sexuality was confirmed after his death by former teammate pro NFL football player David Kopay, who had come out of the closet years earlier.

Jerry Smith died seven weeks after he made his announcement. The Redskins logo, along with Jerry Smith’s uniform number 87, was part of the AIDS quilt.

Image result for jerry smith redskins aids quilt


Will Kohler

Will Kohler is one of America's best known LGBT historians, He is also a a accredited journalist and the owner of Back2Stonewall.com. 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 on such notable media venues as BBC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Daily Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story. Back2Stonewall has been recently added to the Library of Congress' LGBTQ+ Studies Web Archive. Mr. Kohler is available for comment, interviews and lectures on LGBT History. Contact: Will@Back2Stonewall.com

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1 thought on “Gay History: August 26, 1986: Former Washington Redskin Jerry Smith Announces He Has AIDS”

  1. It was a sad and difficult time. But AIDS brought many men out of the closet and really set the stage for renewed and intense activism in the gay and lesbian and bi community. Many of us (men and women) who were activists also worked in the health field as well and we were all OUT.

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