The Beginning of the Road
Editor's note: This column is the second in a series titled, Your Reappearing Act. The goal is to use this page to curate the stories of other people's reappearing acts, to introduce readers to women and men who are living openly within the sports world. If you want to share your story (publicly or privately), please email me at kfagan3 (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, you can click the email icon on the top right of this page.
Wade Davis is a former NFL player who spent time with the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks, as well as two different teams in NFL Europe. He is now the executive director of the You Can Play Project, an organization dedicated to ending discrimination and homophobia in sports.
BY WADE DAVIS
I had arrived.
It was 1996, and I had fled as quickly as possible from the rural dry lands of Mesa State University in Grand Junction, Colorado, to the majestic mountains of Ogden, Utah, where I would grace Weber State University with my presence. I use the word “grace” intentionally, to convey the confidence and arrogance I was trying to project. But the truth is, I was scared shitless. While I always put on a good face, underneath all the bravado was a fearful and extremely fragile little boy.
Since my sophomore year in high school, I had created an alter ego, a separate and distinct personality whose purpose was to shield the real me from the world. See, the 10th grade was the first time I found myself attracted to someone of the same sex. The feeling was frightening and confusing, because I had always understood myself as someone who liked girls, or at least made myself believe that I did. Looking back, I don’t remember actually having those feelings. Usually I manufactured the emotions: I knew I was supposed to like girls, so I did. But that year in 10th grade, when my mind drifted, it was often to a male classmate.
And I panicked.
For me, panicking resulted in hours spent watching the “Red Shoe Diaries” and other forms of soft porn on television, attempting to focus all my energy on the female love interest. Of course, it’s impossible to watch a man and woman have sex and somehow eliminate the man in that equation. But in my mind, the guy was invisible and the woman excited me. I would run home after school to watch the shows I had recorded, grabbing the VCR tape from one of several hiding places.
As if things weren’t complicated enough in my head, I realized that Jason, one of my best buddies, was friendly with the only pseudo-out gay kid in my high school. At that moment, I felt like I had to make a choice: stop being friends with Jason or risk being grouped into hanging out with a known “faggot” -- because the F-word rolled off everyone’s tongue when John Smith, the semi-out gay kid, would come around.
So for the next few years, my jock friends and I would tease, belittle and make fun of John Smith or anyone else who seemed different than us. We were equal opportunity assholes. It was the only way I could figure out how to maintain my friendship with Jason on one side of my social sphere while still fitting in and saving face with my athletic friends.
Although I knew I was struggling with something in high school, I wasn’t yet painfully aware of my own sexuality -- of being gay. That wondrous yet dreadful moment happened once I arrived at Weber State.
I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my English class, and he walked into the room.
He was white, pale and older, slim with gorgeous, shoulder-length, dirty blond hair and ultra geeky glasses. He was wearing cargo pants and a white tee, and I know I stopped breathing for a moment. As soon as I saw him, I had to talk to him. Hear his voice. Touch his hand. His hair. And deep inside me, I also felt a need to touch his lips and his body.
Though I had only limited interaction with gay men, there was something about Eric that lead me to believe he was gay. Maybe it was his energy. Or maybe it was my intuition. But from the moment I saw him, I knew I had to get to know him.
So I started strategizing how to make this happen. I would arrive at class early so I could sit closer to Eric. And then closer still. First I sat three rows back. Then two rows back. Then right behind him, where I would slyly lean forward to smell his hair. Finally, I found the courage to sit right beside him. I talked myself into saying hello. I desperately wanted to make a great first impression, so I told myself to speak in a deeper voice. But just when I worked up the nerve to do it, my voice cracked. My heart sank, and I dropped my head; I sounded like a smurf.
Eric looked at me, seemingly trying to determine how an overgrown mouse had ended up sitting next to him. I tried to say hello again, but my voice shrieked a second time.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
I nodded and managed to say yes without squeaking. Then Eric asked if I was on the football team.
I smiled, thinking that being an athlete would give me some cachet. But to my dismay, Eric seemed more confused than impressed: “So how come you’re talking to me?”
My heart sank again, and I looked away, dejected.
But not defeated. I was persistent, and I continued to sit by Eric every day, peppering him with questions so I could learn more about him.
After several weeks of breaking him down, I found out he worked the night shift at a local 7-Eleven. So every night, I would leave my dorm room and walk to the store to see the man I imagined as my boyfriend. Eric was so wonderful and patient; he would answer any and all questions that I had about what it was like being gay. He told me how he came to realize when he was gay, how his parents reacted, how his first kiss happened. I didn’t have the courage to ask him about sex, even though it was always at the front of my mind.
And then one day, Eric told me that he liked fishing. Finally, an opening … YES! As a kid, I would go fishing with my grandmother. Now, I had a great opportunity to get Eric all alone. So he drove us up the mountains roads, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Every so often, he would catch me looking at him and ask me, “Are you okay?” I wanted to say that I was more than okay; I was perfect. I was with the man of my dreams, someone I had been musing about for months, and now here we were, just the two of us, without any other distractions, without the fear that someone would catch us.
As I looked at Eric, I knew what I wanted: to kiss him, to answer all the questions in my head. He caught me staring at him again, and once again he asked if I was okay.
“I want to kiss you,” I said.
“Really,” he said, looking at me, smiling. It wasn’t a question.
Eric pulled over to the side of the road and looked me in the eyes. “Are you sure?” he asked. Without even answering, I leaned in and kissed him. I pulled away quickly, but not because I didn’t enjoy it. No one had ever warned me about that initially unnerving moment of feeling another man’s stubble against my skin.
Undeterred, I went in for seconds, thirds, more.
After what seemed like an hour of kissing, though it was only a few blissful minutes, I was suddenly overcome with fear. I pulled away from Eric and said, "Take me home." He looked at me with confusion, so I said it again, more forcefully: "Take me home, please."
"Okay, okay,” Eric said, and we rode home in silence as I looked out the window with my eyes half open.
I couldn’t believe what I had just done. I had kissed another man -- and I liked it.
But I never spoke to Eric again.
From the first moment I understood that I was attracted to men, I began developing an almost unbearable amount of shame and self-hatred. It would take me years to stop running from myself. But now, thankfully, by surrounding myself with people who love me unconditionally, and who allow me to show up in the world as my authentic self, I'm well down the road of self-love and acceptance. Today, I can say out loud that I am a proud gay man, and I'm not ashamed to walk down the street holding my partner’s hand.
I will always be on a journey of self-love, but it's a journey that I no longer walk alone.
You can follow Wade on Twitter: @Wade_Davis28
Life-Changing Budino in Berkeley
Editor's note: Below is the first in a series titled, Your Reappearing Act. The goal is to use this page to curate the stories of other people's reappearing acts, to introduce readers to women and men who are living openly within the sports world. If you want to share your story (publicly or privately), please email me at kfagan3 (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, you can click the email icon on the top right of this page.
Kate Scott is the morning anchor at KNBR 680 in San Francisco, the television sideline reporter for the San Jose Earthquakes, and co-host of the San Francisco Giants "SFG Live" webcast.
BY KATE SCOTT
It all happened so quickly. Or at least that’s how it felt at the time.
The year was 2003, and I was just starting my junior year at UC Berkeley.
I was stuffing envelopes at my fall internship at ABC 7 in San Francisco when I began dreaming about dessert. Sure would be nice to share coffee and a chocolate budino with someone special this Friday night. Too bad I still haven't found a guy I click with.
I sighed, returning to the mindless envelope stuffing when suddenly a face popped into my head: Jessica’s face. I said to myself, Why not just take your best friend instead? She likes coffee and chocolate and always gives you shit for not spending enough time with your friends. I bet she'd love to go!
I took my phone into the bathroom and called her. (I know, calling someone -- crazy, right? But I'm 31, and I went to college before texting was a thing.)
She didn't pick up, so I left her a voicemail. She called back a few minutes later.
Friday night sounded great! She was in. And suddenly, my stomach was full of butterflies. Why? We'd hung out tons of times before: football games, house parties, Alias marathons. But this ... this ... felt different somehow. Maybe I'm just excited about showing her the amazingness that is the budino.
Yeah, if only.
If only that was the case, then hanging out for a couple of hours with my best friend that Friday wouldn't have been the most awkward two hours we’d ever spent together.
“So, um ... how were classes today?” I asked.
Silence. Her cup clinked on its saucer.
“Wow, this budino thing is really good,” she said after a long pause. “Thanks for letting me in on the secret.”
Our server reappeared: “Would you like more coffee, miss?”
“Um, sure, thanks,” I said.
Even more silence.
We eventually split the check and drove back to her apartment, a ride in which I'd never been happier to hear Creed come on the radio, filling the silence. As I drove, I wracked my brain for a reason that our interactions, which had always been so effortless, were now suddenly awkward.
Did she have somewhere else to be? Had I oversold the budino?
While I continued to search unsuccessfully for an answer, I kept flashing back to a conversation we’d had in my dorm room a few weeks earlier. It had seemed like just another casual hangout when out of nowhere she told me she was bisexual.
“That’s awesome!” I said.
“Well, yeah,” I continued. “You’re one of my best friends. I’m happy when you’re happy. So if dating a woman makes you happy, I’m in!”
She laughed, then turned the tables by asking, “So ... have you ever dated a girl?”
“Nooooo, I haven’t … [slight pause]. But I haven’t ruled it out!” I blurted that last part with surprising enthusiasm. “You know me; I love people. Guys, gals, short, tall -- I've always been attracted to the entirety of a person. So who knows, maybe one day a lay-dee will catch my eye.”
We both laughed.
I parked the car. And as we climbed the stairs to her apartment, I couldn’t stop staring at her arms. They were so toned, I thought.
A few glasses of wine later, the awkwardness finally dissipated, replaced by our typical sassy banter. We transitioned into a conversation about our families, which soon morphed into a discussion about kids, dreams, fears ...
I looked at the clock: It was two in the morning.
“Holy shit,” I said. “How did it get to be so late?!”
We laughed again. We were lying down, facing one another on her bed. Then the laughing stopped. I looked at her, reached out, and gently took a few stray pieces of her hair between my thumb and forefinger and tucked them behind her ear.
“So, um ... I think I’m gonna kiss you now,” I whispered. The shock registered immediately on her face, disappearing just as fast.
“Okay,” she said softly.
And then I did. And it was unlike any kiss I’d ever experienced.
I finally understood all the fireworks and racing hearts and never-wanting-it-to-end moments that my friends had gushed about back in high school, talking about their boyfriends.
I was completely overwhelmed.
So I did what any person who struggles to communicate her feelings would do. I pulled away, told her I was really tired and quickly fell asleep. (I know, I know. To this day, my “game” remains a work in progress.)
Fast forward to the following week, after countless more stolen kisses, cuddles and confusing thoughts. With classes done for the day, I couldn't get to Jessica’s apartment fast enough. I had a craving I’d never experienced before: the craving for another person. I knocked on her door. She answered with a smile, then pointed to her ear and mouthed, “I’m on the phone; I’ll be off in a sec,” and retreated to her bedroom. As I took off my backpack and slouched onto her couch, all the confusion I’d been feeling, all the emotion I’d been trying to ignore, suddenly formed into the first clear thought I’d had since I asked her to go out with me -- on, duh, a date! -- the Friday before. And that thought created what I now recognize as the first panic attack of my life.
Oh my God. I’m totally gay.
The panic was two-fold.
First, I grew up in a place where being gay -- at least publicly -- just wasn’t okay. I was born in Fresno and raised in Clovis, California, where expressions like “Hey, homo” and “That’s so gay” and “You’re such a faggot” were common digs. Hell, the first two slurs were a part of my own vernacular until I arrived at Berkeley. My junior year of high school, football players paraded around campus with signs that read, “Yes on Prop 22” -- the precursor to Prop 8. Most vividly, I remember often finding myself as the lone voice when debating friends who seemed convinced that being gay was a choice.
“Why would someone choose that life, especially here, where people are so vocal with their disapproval?” I would ask.
Their typical response: “I don’t know, but it’s gross and it’s not normal, so they must have their reasons.”
My childhood home was a place of acceptance. My parents, who weren’t religious, always encouraged me to attend church with any friend who asked, or to dog sit for the two women who lived together down the street, or to say hello to my friend's Uncle Matt and Matt’s friend Mark, who always seemed to join him at family events. But in our neighborhood, my home was in the minority.
And now here I was in college, thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, and the panic was growing more intense.
With a bunch of internships under my belt, I was already on the path to becoming a sports broadcaster. But as I mentally scanned through all the men and women I looked up to and hoped to work with one day, the picture scared the hell out of me. Not one of them was gay -- at least, not openly.
That fall day back in Berkeley, Jessica got off the phone and joined me on the couch. She could tell immediately that something had changed.
“Are you okay?” she asked. “All the color is gone from your cheeks.”
“I ... uh ... yeah, I’m fine,” I lied. “Wanna make dinner?”
So we did.
And thus began the months of lying. Inside her apartment, everything was perfect. But outside, the pressure of leading two separate lives caused me to retreat from almost every meaningful relationship I had.
I was, and still am, an awful liar, so I found it easier to avoid close friends and family altogether. They wouldn’t be able to see the pain in my eyes if I simply left them another voice mail excuse.
Eventually, after about eight months, I realized I just couldn’t -- and didn’t want to -- live this way anymore. If people were unable to accept who I was, I didn’t need them in my life. And it turns out my fear of rejection was mostly unfounded.
“So, when do I get to have some non-football-related Kate time?” my good friend Ben asked one Saturday, as we walked up the hill toward the stadium, to lead the Cal student section through another afternoon of “Go Bears!” chants and cheers. “Seems like any time I ask you to hang out, you’ve got something else to do.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty busy these days,” I said.
“What did you do last night?” he asked.
“I, uh, I was hanging out with Jessica.”
“You two have been hanging out a lot lately, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“You, uh, you like her a lot, yeah?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“You two, uh, well are you ... you know, more than friends?”
“Yes, Ben, she’s my girlfriend,” I snapped. “There … I said it. I'm fucking gay!”
He paused for a few seconds, shocked, then started laughing. “Well, okay then. That’s all I wanted to know! Jessica’s great. What took you so long to tell me, anyway? Is that why I haven’t gotten to have a beer with your ass in six months!?!”
And so began the awkward, uncomfortable, never-a-good-time conversations in which I revealed the truth about myself to the people in my life. Though difficult in the moment, each interaction helped me to begin feeling whole again. Years later, I still feel grateful every day for the overwhelming sense of happiness that has come from my decision to live openly. (Jessica and I dated for a little over a year before we decided we were better as friends, which we remain to this day.)
Today, I’m the 5 a.m. to 12 p.m. sports anchor at KNBR 680 in San Francisco, the television sideline reporter for the San Jose Earthquakes, and co-host of the San Francisco Giants’ “SFG Live” webcast. I’ve been married to my beautiful wife Nicole since 2008, and I often talk about her on-air. As a result, I’ve been the target of a handful of hateful emails and tweets. But the positive has far outweighed the negative. For example, I got an email from a mother who was struggling to accept her gay daughter. She said she had listened to KNBR for years, that the on-air folks felt like extended members of her family, and that after hearing me talk about my life with Nicole, she was starting to realize that her daughter’s committed relationship wasn’t so different from her own partnership with her husband.
There was also the note I received from a gay man, thanking me for being proud of my marriage. His nephew, a star high school athlete, listens to KNBR every day, and the nephew told his uncle that if I wasn’t ashamed, he shouldn’t be either. So the young man recently came out to the rest of his family.
And then there was the time a KNBR listener reached out, starting his message like this: “I’m a Christian conservative who was taken aback when you first discussed your sexuality on the radio.”
Oh dear, I thought. This isn't going to end well.
He went on to say he didn’t have any gay friends and he had voted “Yes” on Prop 8, but after listening to me for a few years, his stance on marriage equality had softened. Maybe we gays weren’t actually proof that the world was ending, he said.
Sure, his words could have used some work. Then again, it’s the thought that counts, right? And just the fact that he not only still listened but also felt the need to tell me he continued to tune in, well, I can’t help but smile now as I recount the memory.
There were moments when it felt like this was all happening so quickly, you know? The self-realization, the coming-out process ... life. Of course, there were also moments that felt like they would never end.
As I sit here writing, a little over ten years later, I’ve realized that's just how life goes. And you find a way to get through all of it.
Looking back on it now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You can follow Kate Scott on Twitter: @katetscott.