Homosexuality is a delicate subject in the history of the United States. During the 60’s and 70’s, it was acceptable to consider homosexuality as a mental illness; and unfortunately, this led to treatments that sought to cure the “disease”.
Thankfully, attitudes towards gay and lesbians have changed dramatically since then. In the current political and social climate, LGBT folk do not suffer under the same degree of discrimination they did forty years ago, and they have more rights than ever before. Furthermore, LGBT individuals enjoy a great level of visibility in the media that was not afforded to them in the past. Indeed, the quality of life for LGBT individuals in the U.S. has never been higher.
In celebration of today’s achievements towards LGBT rights and visibility, I would like to talk about David Kopay, the first NFL player to publicly come out as gay and discuss his sexuality with the press.
To any stranger, Kopay was a typical professional athlete. He was fit, good looking, and had a powerful enthusiasm for the sports he played. To add to this athlete’s image, he also dated plenty of women in his spare time. However, beneath this all American athlete’s veneer was a curious man who experimented with other men and struggled to identify his sexuality.
“Also, the time was the 1960s and ’70s, and there was room for sexual experimentation, a little bit. And I did exactly that”-David Kopay
In an interview with ESPN, Kopay describes his relationship with his team mates. During his 8 year tenure as an NFL athlete, David Kopay would play for five different teams in the league: the San Francisco 49ers, the Detroit Lions, the Washington Red Skins, the New Orleans Saints, and the Green Bay Packers. As a result of these numerous transfers, Kopay was able to maintain a distance between his teammates and himself and keep others in the dark about his sexuality.
Kopay would eventually make the decision to come out publicly in 1975, choosing to do so an interview with the Washington Star. In the interview, he chronicles the struggles that so many gay athletes experience in the league. Mainly, he discusses the difficulties gay men experience in maintaining their image of masculinity in spite of their sexuality. Upon coming out, Kopay was critical of the NFL’s response. Having hoped to secure a position as a coach, Kopay would unfortunately find no success. Although he has no definitive proof, he believes that he was denied a coaching position based on his sexuality.
Ever since coming out, Kopay has been a staunch defender of LGBT rights and an advocate for homosexual visibility in sports. He has argued in favor of flexible sexuality identifications and believes that the current standard for labels is too restrictive to gay individuals. The stress of maintaining a facade on top of the pressure to perform is a point of concern for Kopay, and he continues to call for a more open discussion of homosexuality in all professional sports.