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Gay History: August 26, 1986: Former Washington Redskins Football Player 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. Sports Illustrated called him “an outstanding receiver among tight ends, with the ability to break open for a long gain.”  During his career Smith played in 168 games and had 421 receptions for a total of 5,496 yards.  Scoring an amazing 60 touchdowns, he held the record for tight ends that stood for almost 25 years and was twice named All-Pro

Smith was 6-foot-3 but weighed only 210 pounds. Nobody ever questioned his skills and 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.

After retiring Smith became co-owner of The Boathouse, a gay bar in Austin Texas.  It was later confirmed that he had been romantically involved with former Redskins teammate Dave 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, is part of the AIDS quilt.

Jerry Smith | Legacy Project Chicago

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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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2 thoughts on “Gay History: August 26, 1986: Former Washington Redskins Football Player 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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