Wade Davis: Closeted Gay Players Not ‘Chicken’


A few weeks ago, just before the new year, I shared a gay history flashback in the form of a post about Gay Comix, the short-lived, late-70s/early-80s periodical that covered, with tongue in cheek, the burgeoning gay rights movement in illustration.

In that post, I mentioned that a few issues have been reprinted in Robert Triptow's Gay Comics, a collection of LGBT cartoons from that era. My copy of Triptow's anthology came last week, but I didn't had a chance to review it until today.

The first illustration I randomly opened to, a mid-70s cartoon by Charles Ortleb and Richard Fiala originally published in the gay newspaper Christopher Street, is posted above. In case the punchline is too blurry, it reads, "Coach Waldman [no relation] passes out xeroxes of an article asserting that only one in ten of his team could possibly be gay."

This gag, sadly, remains relevant today. Despite all the progress LGBT people have made, the mound, the pitch and the rink all remain relatively closed to sexual honesty.

Wade Davis knows this all too well. The former NFL player had to wait until he retired to come out. Since then, he has dedicated his time to making the collective locker room a more welcoming place for gay players. That doesn't mean, however, that he thinks gay players should be chided for not coming out.

In response to ESPN journalist LZ Granderson's claim that closeted players are "chicken," Davis penned a Los Angeles Times op-ed in which he argues that the onus is on straight players and fans to create a more inclusive environment:

Coming out, or as I like to say, "inviting in," is an individual process that requires a level of safety and security. In women's sports, a number of gay athletes have disclosed their sexual orientation, including tennis champion Amelie Mauresmo, basketball great Sheryl Swoopes and soccer star Megan Rapinoe. It was interesting how little fallout there was from those announcements. But I suspect that women's sports fans are more accepting, in part because of misguided societal notions about femininity and masculinity.

I don't believe another athlete would try to harm a gay male athlete, but professional sports is still full of people happy to express their disapproval of homosexuality, and coming out requires a supportive environment.

It's been about 40 years since Christopher Street published the above cartoon, but this very well could have been run this morning.


  1. Caliban says

    That’s a really excellent op-ed by Wade Davis. Yesterday there was another post about Davis here, and some were questioning why that got less interest than other articles, the Andrew Rannells “purebred” comment for instance, whether it was evidence of racism or some “Ewww, sports!” gay male bias.

    Really I don’t think it’s either. When a retired sports figure comes out it’s only slightly more interesting than when anyone else does, and only then due to the “macho” proving ground where they came from rather than, possibly, anything about the individual. Often there isn’t much to say about someone coming out other than “Good for him/her!”

    In my opinion it’s only what that out person says or does afterward that offers meat for commentary or opinion. That Andrew Rannells, an actor, is openly gay doesn’t offer much either- it was his “purebred” comment that gave people something to talk about, even if IMO some took what was clearly a joke far too seriously.

    I’ve got to admit that, like LZ Granderson, in the past I’ve probably been critical of professional male athletes who only come out AFTER they retire. But it’s very easy for me to criticize from my position in the rough-and-tumble world of Library Science (<-sarcasm). It’s true that whoever DOES become the “gay Jackie Robinson” of male professional sports will have to have a LOT of guts because not every teammate is a Brendan Ayanbadejo or Chris Kluwe. More to the point, many sports fans are the furthest thing from that, particularly the fans of opposing teams. Davis makes a good point that it isn’t necessarily a matter of closeted players being weak or “chicken,” but that despite recent efforts by many players and teams sports is still not a welcoming place for openly gay players.

  2. says

    It’s just one of those unfortunate realities – at some point, all of the people who are sitting in the darkness waiting for Someone Else To Be The First will have to make a choice.

    not everyone has it in them to be a vanguard, but those that do will utterly earn their place in history.

  3. Michael Bedwell says

    “Christopher Street” was NOT a “newspaper” but a MAGAZINE. From 1976 to 1995, while imperfect, it was the most professional of any of our community’s publications, coming the closest to their goal of being “the gay ‘New Yorker’.”

  4. Caliban says

    So out of that ENTIRE article, and the related links, the ONLY thing you have so say is a terse correction about “newspaper” vs “magazine”? Just out of curiosity, Michael, do you EVER make comments that aren’t snippy corrections of what someone else has written? Because if you have I must have missed them. Often they’re informative, when it’s a topic about which you’re better informed, such as military issues. Sometimes, like now, they’re merely pedantic and petty. Sometimes they manage to be both.

  5. Michael Bedwell says

    @ “Caliban”: in addition to “Christopher Street” cofounder Ortleb and cartoonist Fiala—featured in multiple best selling cartoon collections including “And God Bless Uncle Harry and His Roommate Jack Who We Are Not Supposed to Talk About,” I doubt that its dozens of well-known and award-winning contributors including Christopher Isherwood, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Kate Millett, Edmund White, May Sarton, Andrew Holleran, Christopher Bram, Ned Rorem, Quentin Crisp, Lawrence Mass, Ethen Mordden, David Leavitt, David Plante, James Purdy, and Robert Ferro—all featured in a number of separately published, successful “Christopher Street” contributor collections—not to mention its other countless readers would call this correction “petty” any more than a correction of a story asserting that Harvey Milk was elected San Francisco’s dogcatcher.

    I could have added that anyone PAID to write about gay issues should know better, and that it’s bad enough when straight people distort our history, but I did not.

  6. Diogenes Arktos says

    @GregV: It might help to know that at the time gays and lesbians were estimated to be 10% of the population.

  7. jamal49 says

    American professional sports, particularly the NFL, MLB and NBA, are infested with pompous, self-righteous evangelicals. It would take a brave, self-assured player to come out (or “invite in”) while he is still active in any of those sports because the fallout would, I think, be quite negative from his teammates and the fans. Homophobia in male, professional sports is still quite strong. I wish that I might be wrong.

  8. says

    speaking of strong, would that gay american pro-athletes could emulate the strength and courage of LGBT people in the Third World.

    people are Coming Out, and risking their lives, elsewhere in the world.

    let’s all remember to keep perspective.

  9. billmiller says

    Until the church and some society ‘leaders’ stop beating us up, a lot of people, in sports and otherwise will feel the need to remain closeted.

  10. modernist says

    “not chicken” is bullsh*t. for decades countless gay men and women have been stepping forward in places where being gay has got them abused/ bashed/ killed. many LGBT youth are on the streets because they’ve been kicked out of their homes. these are the people paving the the way so these macho “not chickens” can be “invited in”?! frederick douglass said, “who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.” sorry wade, i’m not as inclined to give you and your kind a free pass as some of the other people on here….these macho guys want to gain something at no cost to themselves. man up!

  11. says

    to modernist’s brutal and truthful point – whenever i hear a big “strong” grown-adult man complain about how hard it will be for him to Come Out, I want to ask them how hard they think life is for all the much-younger people than them who can’t “blend in” as well as they do.

    you wanna know hard? imagine you’re not able to “pass for white”


  12. jamal49 says

    Interesting to see the mention of the now-defunct magazine “Christopher Street”. There was a time in my life that I could not wait for each issue to appear on the newsstands. Christopher Street had some excellent writing and interviews. It wasn’t perfect but during its heyday it was one of the BEST gay publications out there. I still have a few issues tucked away somewhere.

  13. Diogenes Arktos says

    Christopher Street was great because you could usually buy it at news stands – not behind a door or in some special “adults only” section like the Advocate.