Dave Kopay was a pioneer when he came out as gay in 1975 following a nine-year NFL career. He has waited almost 40 years for an openly gay active pro sports athlete to come out and was emotional when I called him at his Los Angeles home this morning. I could hear him choking up as he talked about what the coming out of NBA player Jason Collins means.
"We've got a gay general manager [Golden State president Rick Welts] and now we have a gay player," Kopay said. "It gets me emotional. [pause] I'm sorry. [pause] No, I'm not sorry, I'm happy as shit."
Kopay used the words "wow" and "unbelievable" as he digested what Collins had done. "I think it's wonderful and it's a smart thing to do. He's from Stanford and that's appropriate too. It's time, I think it's fabulous and I'm really excited. I really hope to hell that things continue to move along and we get beyond this like we're getting beyond the gay marriage issue."
When Kopay was with the Washington Redskins, he was teammates with tight end Jerry Smith (the two had an affair) and teammates knew about Smith. Kopay's closeness to Smith also caused his teammates to wonder about Kopay's sexual orientation. He discussed this while saying that Collins also being black was a big deal.
"I think it does make it more significant." Kopay said. "The black players when I was in Washington were generally much, much more supportive than the white players."
Kopay has been a longtime advocate of gay rights and has been pushing for the NFL to do more to embrace its gay players. He hopes Collins' announcement sets a precedent.
"I think it's time for the National Football League to step up. [Commissioner Roger] Goodell has said some pretty powerful things recently and I want to thank him for it. I know there are gay players in the National Football League and it's time for them to come out, too."