Gay NFL Star Jerry Smith’s Career Examined in Groundbreaking Broadcast



National Football League Network Senior Producer Paul Monusky was asked to do a short five minute film on former Washington Redskins star Jerry Smith.

Jerry_SmithThe record setting football star was closeted his entire football career and died of AIDS on October 15, 1986. When Monusky ran into former teammates Chris Hanburger and Bobby Mitchell who sang Smith's praises, his playing ability and said everyone on the team 'sort of knew' that Smith was gay, Monusky realized that this was more than a five minute story.

As a result, this Tuesday night (January 21), NFL Network's "A Football Life"will air an historical hour on former Washington Redskin Jerry Smith. The show will air at 9PM EST and will be repeated throughout the week on the channel.

After the show, Jenn Brown will host "A Football Life: Backstory" which will delve deeper into Smith's life. Joining her will be Smith's former Redskins teammates Brigg Owens and Calvin Hill. In addition, I personally will be a guest.

Monusky, in an exclusive interview with, said, "This show is a first and is unlike anything we have done on the NFL Network. The show, without a doubt, is a groundbreaker."

Jerry Smith was a giant among football players.

NFL Films describes Smith for the upcoming special.

Almost 50 years ago, a young tight end named Jerry Smith joined the Washington Redskins. After 13 seasons on the team, Smith retired, but not before making two Pro Bowls, one All-Pro team, and playing in a Super Bowl. He set an NFL record with 60 receiving touchdowns, the most ever by a tight end (that record stood for 26 years). Smith was also gay, something that most of his teammates knew, but didn’t care about.

We interviewed 11 of Smith’s former teammates, plus other media members and family. In this film, we will explore how Jerry Smith’s sexuality was a constant source of fear for him, and how today it is not a concern for his teammates, who respected Jerry because of the person he was and what he could do on the field.


When Monusky was asked in our interview what he learned most from producing this show on Smith, he said:

"Would have to say that the issue with an openly gay player is not so much with the teammates as it is with others. All the teammates care about is if you are an excellent player and will help them win."

Monusky continued:

"The biggest surprise for me was learning the amount of fear that Jerry lived with every day of his life. I don't think he would have been allowed to play or he would have resigned from the team if he had come out."

While the Senior Producer would never tell someone playing the NFL League today that they had to come out, he believes it will happen in the next year or two. He believes the reaction would depend on both how good a player he is on the field, and his personality off the field.

"It would have to be a Jackie Robinson type person who could thrive on the field while dealing with such intense pressure from the outside."

Personally having known Jerry Smith when he played for the Washington Redskins, I can only hope this historical broadcast will open up the doors to the Football Hall of Fame where he belongs among the other giants of Pro Football.

You can watch the trailer for the film by simply clicking here.



  1. anon says

    I’ve never heard of him, so this is interesting, but he played back before all the endorsement contracts made every NFL running back a media superstar. It’s really the money from contracts that makes the NFL what it is today and requires that players be marketable worldwide. The expansion of satellite TV in the 60’s made this all technically feasible. The NFL is a 1960’s invention, but back in the 1950’s both leagues were more like how people see hockey today, a sport for fans only, with few kids involved. Smith’s career was at the tail end of that era and the beginning of the NFL era and the rise of the superstars.

  2. Rick says

    I remember Jerry Smith well and am looking forward to the show. He was quite a star for the Redskins teams that were quarterbacked by Sonny Jurgensen at the time when the bitter rivalry between the Redskins and Cowboys developed–which must have been quite amusing to Jerry, given that he was a Texan playing for the “enemy.”

    I was so proud to find out he was gay years later; I only wish it had not been made public through his death from AIDS.

  3. Derrick Jamal D'Enchantra says

    “Smith was also gay, something that most of his teammates knew, but didn’t care about.”

    I’m sorry but this sounds like some perverse revisionism.

  4. JKM says

    I had the pleasure of meeting Jerry socially on several occasions during the 80s in Potomac with my husband. On our first meeting, he complemented us as a couple and wished us much happiness together. We found him an intelligent, handsome, generous, and genuine human being. I also vividly recall the harsh negative reactions in and around DC after his death when it was revealed he was gay, his fear was well justified.

  5. robroy says

    Thanks for the background JKM. I still remember the fear of being gay in a Southern town in the early 90s and can only imagine what it was like at the heights of the athletic/public personality spectrums 15 years prior to that.

    I’m sure the teammates don’t think they had a problem with it but I remember growing up around white people who had no problem with race- except for the fact that they really had no problem living in a racist community. Something tells me many fell along those lines. It would make hearing from the ones who did not very interesting. Or hearing someone give an honest assessment of their views or even ignorance of the matter 40 years ago versus today.

  6. Enchantra says

    Derrick Jamal D’Enchantra – It’s not revisionism. He really didn’t make much of a secret about it. He was a regular at DC gay bars, which in the 70’s didn’t necessarily mean one was gay, but he also had a reputation for picking up tall handsome young men. I remember watching him swallow my friend Bruce’s face at The Pier.

  7. Bob Roehr says

    Relatively soon after coming out, had to be 1972 or 73, I remember being at an old dive of a gay bar, the Georgetown Grill, one weekend afternoon and looked around and could identify Smith (then in the middle of his tenure as the starting tight end for the Redskins), a senior legislative assistant to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Surgeon General of the Air Force. It was that eureka moment when it clicked for me that being gay was OK, no impediment to being successful.

  8. Robin says

    I have never heard of Jerry Smith but I’ve seen the previews for the show this Tuesday and plan on watching. He looked like he was one of the elite players in football. As far as I’m concerned his personal life was his own business and nobody needs to judge anyone else unless they would like to be judged by others on how they conduct there personal lives.

  9. john doe says

    Jerry smith does not belong in the HOF sorry. He made two pro-bowls and the all pro team once. Players that have made it 5 times are not in the HOF. I know him being in the HOF would help push your agenda that great players can be gay, but how about waiting until a truly great gay player comes out or comes along and stop trying to create one with revisionist history.

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