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Openly Gay Former NFL Player David Kopay Remembers His Scandalous Coming Out, Celebrates Michael Sam: VIDEO

DavidKopay

In 1975, David Kopay became the first NFL player, current or former, to come out publicly in the Washington Star. It was a stunning moment for sports, and he later revealed even more--including a one night stand with former Redskin player Jerry Smith--in his memoir, The David Kopay Story. Now, nearly forty years later, Kopay is one of many who are welcoming Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL, with open (but concerned) arms. 

The Hollywood Reporter recently wrote about Kopay's experience:

"I was desperate," he says. "I was totally, 'What am I going to do with my life? Can I make a difference?' " He'd hoped his tale...would encourage other pro athletes to come out. But years turned to decades and few had followed suit. Meeting Sam, the gifted defensive end who shattered the last civil rights hurdle in pro sports when he kissed his boyfriend after being drafted by the St. Louis Rams in May, came as more than just a passing thrill. It was the culmination of a life's work.

One need only consider current attitudes toward gays in sports -- when a celebratory kiss between men can result in an uproar -- to grasp just how shocking Kopay's admission was for the 1970s. And yet somehow his remarkable story has faded over the years. According to columnist Will Leitch, founding editor of Deadspin, that largely is due to Kopay being eons ahead of his time. "I think it was honestly too early," says Leitch. "It was 1975. In four years, Al Pacino would be making Cruising. People were not ready for an NFL player being gay at all."

DavidKopay2And neither were Kopay's family and friends. Married at the time, he got divorced and was excommunicated by his Catholic mother; she left him with the kind parting words, "I created you and I can kill you." Kopay moved to San Francisco, rubbing shoulders with Harvey Milk and living with Armistead Maupin, then to Los Angeles where he has lived since.

Kopay swims laps daily at nearby Occidental College, regularly hits the Rose Bowl flea market and enjoys attending NFL alumni games and serving as honorary ambassador to the Gay Games. He lives alone, his garage lined with memory boards filled with photos of debauched days spent in New Orleans. Whenever he speaks of past loves, they are invariably of the unrequited kind.

It is understandable then that Sam's decision to kiss his boyfriend after receiving his draft call would dredge up proud but conflicted emotions for Kopay.

"I was a bit unnerved," Kopay admits of watching Sam plant a passionate smooch on boyfriend Vito Cammisano, the pair later smearing cake on each other's faces. "I'm old school, you know? Certainly I felt he had a right to kiss his boyfriend and I was really glad he did. But I was not so happy with the cake in the face. It was a little bit over the top. I just worried about him like, 'Oh, what's the fuss that this is going to cause?'"

Hopefully relatively little, and Kopay seems to admit that he is of a different era. He also took the first, and perhaps bravest step of all.

"I think it was the first brick removed from the wall of homophobia," says Cyd Zeigler, the co-founder of Outsports.com. "When Kopay came out, the gay community was just beginning to find its identity. For a portion that didn't associate with the stereotypical gay identity, Dave's honesty was life-changing. I'm sure it saved lives."

Check out an interview with Kopay, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Comments

  1. I can understand being ol' school, but Sams should not think twice about kissing his mate. If Sams was kissing a girl no one would have thought anything about it. Thats the way is should be with his boyfriend.

    Posted by: Jaysonn | Jul 22, 2014 2:01:08 PM


  2. I am disgusted when I hear a mother say "I brought you into this world and I can take you out." It's the most hateful, ignorant, inhuman thing a mother can say to a child.

    Posted by: Jack M | Jul 22, 2014 2:08:25 PM


  3. It's hard for younger people to understand what this era was like. Most of the 20 and 30-somethings I know have grown up with gay and lesbian people being in the media, being visible, proud, and just being seen living their lives.

    Not so in the 60's and 70's.

    I'm so glad that the times have changed.

    Posted by: Raybob | Jul 22, 2014 2:10:12 PM


  4. "Married at the time, he got divorced and was excommunicated by his Catholic mother." I'm pretty sure that only the Church, and not an individual member, has the authority to excommunicate.

    Posted by: Former Catholic | Jul 22, 2014 2:22:18 PM


  5. "For a portion that didn't associate with the stereotypical gay identity, Dave's honesty was life-changing"

    It was for me as a 17 year old when I read his book in 1977. It's just kind of sad that he's never met someone to share his life with.

    Posted by: Henry Holland | Jul 22, 2014 2:51:42 PM


  6. I grew up in New Orleans, and it was a stunning moment for me when he came out. His declaration may have been "too early" for the NFL and for his family, but precisely because of that, we owe Kopay and people like him a great debt.

    Posted by: Clayton | Jul 22, 2014 2:58:06 PM


  7. It makes me love Sam even more and just feel this guy is so brave the way grown gay men are still so scared to go all out with their love. Like this guy moved down soo many spots and thought he would never get through after being lauded-he comes from a poor African American background and his boyfriend is from a tough close knit italian catholic family...and THEY don't care.

    This guy is a hero.

    But I agree w some other posters-fear, shame and self destruction stops you forming relationships and only heading for unrequited love.

    He is so brave and should be happy but as usual, like most gay men STILL esp in Hollywood or on these blogs-he still has a self hate of his gayness.

    And people want Sam to dump Vito because he dated some porn star when they weren't together-which clearly was done to rile Sam up-when once you find that kind of love, you don't give it up for nothing.

    Posted by: Rowan | Jul 22, 2014 3:17:30 PM


  8. Good luck, Dave. Your courage has been an inspiration to us.

    Posted by: Richard | Jul 22, 2014 3:19:59 PM


  9. good for him. how telling.

    it's sad that so many disregard the role-models that exist because "they're not enough like me" or one feels they "don't associate with that stereotypical identity" - they ignore already-present potential role-models while the folks they *wish* were their role-models choose, instead, to not step up to that role.

    what a world we'd live in if people were inspired by strength of character as opposed to more rudimentary "he is like me" ideologies.

    that said, for those who feel they can't be inspired by someone unless they're just-like-them, i truly hope they find their inspiration models, they come out, and we all join to collectively end closet culture.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Jul 22, 2014 3:29:14 PM


  10. I wish Mr. Kopay could find reciprocated love. I'm just left feeling sad for him. Surely there must be someone out there for him.

    Posted by: Jonty Coppersmith | Jul 22, 2014 4:19:32 PM


  11. I read Kopay's story back in the late 70's-early 80's when I was all of 13 or 14 at the Seattle Public Library. He had a huge influence on me as a proud,athletic, masculine gay man; I for one am profoundly grateful for him.

    Posted by: Dback | Jul 22, 2014 5:12:49 PM


  12. forgive me for being so glib, but if so many closeted guys are so "masculine" why do they need someone else to open the door for them? and how many more "masculine" (in your heads....) guys need to be Out in order for people to stop giving "i can't come out because i don't relate to gay role models, blah blah blah" as some cop-out excuse?

    I just don't get it. If one feels that they're "masculine" why can't they just bloody Come Out and do what those "other gays" do, which is stop living each day in fear of what others think of you?

    the resentment that so many closeted guys have toward, let's be real here, the gays who *come out first* is not just sad but entirely misplaced.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Jul 22, 2014 5:32:30 PM


  13. Dat ass!

    Amirite guys?

    Posted by: daws | Jul 22, 2014 5:36:00 PM


  14. Kopay is a true gay hero- it took a great deal of courage to come out when he did.

    Posted by: jarago | Jul 22, 2014 5:40:17 PM


  15. Dave is a personal friend of Jim and Cyd at Outsports and they report on and talk about Dave all the time. His Catholic parents were not happy w/his coming out to say the least but as of just a year or so ago it was reported that Dave was the sole care giver of his 95 year old Mom and still running the family flooring bizz in LA.
    I seriously doupt his mother said the quote attributed to her and I will check his autobiography tonight when I get home to see if it is in there(?).
    Dave Kopay is still a very handsome fella but man you should look up a pic of he and Jerry Smith back in their playing days. Major hunks.

    Posted by: KevInPDX | Jul 22, 2014 5:54:09 PM


  16. Yes Dave Kopay was a HUGE role model for me growing up gay and interested in sports. I remember seeing him on the Phil Donahue show and women gasping over him and saying "It's Ok you're gay..we'll share you". They just didn't get it. But people like Dave Kopay, Leonard Matlovich and Harvey Milk were inspirational role models for me in a day when they were few and far between.

    Posted by: Dave in PA | Jul 22, 2014 6:48:03 PM


  17. People say it was too early, but we were on a roll in the 70s.

    Posted by: BobN | Jul 22, 2014 9:34:40 PM


  18. Dave,

    I'm sorry you had to go through what you did, but I thank you for what you've done for our community. Michael Sam being who his is and still playing the game he loves is a true culmination of your work.

    Posted by: Stefan | Jul 22, 2014 11:49:01 PM


  19. Dave led the way for so many of us. For me, the first Invisible to become Visible and open up for me the possibility that Gay cannot always be seen; that any one of us can be Gay and as disparately individual as anyone. His book inspired me to embrace Hope, which became commitment...

    I'm lucky to have come to enjoy the friendship of my Original Hero. A more loving and caring man does not walk this planet.

    He should have the partner he wants ... there is still time, Dave.

    Posted by: Kile Ozier | Jul 23, 2014 2:43:56 AM


  20. Dave led the way for so many of us. For me, the first Invisible to become Visible and open up for me the possibility that Gay cannot always be seen; that any one of us can be Gay and as disparately individual as anyone. His book inspired me to embrace Hope, which became commitment...

    I'm lucky to have come to enjoy the friendship of my Original Hero. A more loving and caring man does not walk this planet.

    He should have the partner he wants ... there is still time, Dave.

    Posted by: Kile Ozier | Jul 23, 2014 2:44:30 AM


  21. I remember reading his book, secretly, when I was in high school. Reading about him helped me feel "normal".

    People today, (especially those born after Reagan) don't understand how it was then, especially for a kid coming of age.

    I never really got into sports, but learning about Dave, reading his book, made a big positive impact on me in my early teens.

    I'm glad he's still around, Dave's a great role model.

    Posted by: Charlie | Jul 23, 2014 8:57:56 AM


  22. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, even David Kopay. The Stonewall Riots, the Daughters of Bilitis, One Inc., the Mattachine Society, the Society for Human Rights, and organizations in Britain and Europe all helped create a foundation that made David's decision possible. He certainly made a huge and unprecedented leap in the field of sports, as others have made leaps in other fields, but this did not happen in a vacuum.

    Posted by: PlaidCat | Jul 26, 2014 8:50:35 AM


  23. I remember Mr. Kopay coming out. I was in high school, I believe he was on Tom Scgneider talking away. THANK YOU Dave Kopay. You have changrd the world!!!

    Posted by: Raymo6400 | Jul 26, 2014 9:14:25 AM


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