Legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi was no stranger to gay men. Not only was his brother gay, but he coached at least three men at Washington who were also gay.
Many people know about Dave Kopay, who was the first former professional athlete to come out publicly, and tight end Jerry Smith, who is probably not in the Pro Footbal Hall Of Fame simply because he was gay.
Yet few know about Ray McDonald, the team’s fullback and No. 1 draft pick in 1966. While the sexual orientation of Kopay and Smith were either unknown or secrets amongst the team, McDonald’s sexual orientation was pretty well-known amongst coaches and players even in 1969 when Lombardi took over the team.
“Lombardi, when he came, understand that Ray McDonald was gay,” Lombardi biographer David Maraniss told NFL Network. “And Lombardi wanted to give him every benefit of the doubt and every chance and said to one of his assistant coaches, George Disckson, if I find out any coach challenging McDonald’s manhood, they will be fired immediately.”
This was all during the summer of 1969 around the same time the Stonewall Riots in New York City were sparking the beginning of the modern gay-rights movement.
It’s hard to believe that 47 years later, with same-sex marriage the law of the land, an NFL coach would have a problem where Lombardi did not.
Take a look at the NFL Network’s clip from The Timeline: Lombardi’s Redskins, airing Dec. 15 after the Thursday Night Football game, and again on Dec. 31 at 9pmET.