The NFL’s 101st season kicks off Thursday night in Kansas City in the midst of a pandemic that will make for mostly fanless games and the threat of an abrupt cancellation should cases of the coronavirus strike teams. But one constant will remain as it has for 101 years — there will be no openly gay or bi players on any of the 32 teams.
It’s a fact that is both shocking and boring at the same time. Boring in that it’s a subject few people even think about, but shocking that in an era of same-sex marriage and out LGBTQ people at the highest levels of the government, business, the miltary and entertainment that men’s pro sports remain such a closet.
There are closeted gay players in the NFL right now and there have been every season for as long back as I can remember and the league is rife with straight allies who say they would welcome a gay teammate. And yet no one has come out for reasons we’ve long discussed, with the biggest one being fear. Fear of the reaction of teammates, fans, coaches, executives and sponsors and the intense media spotlight that would shine (for a short while) on the first active gay player. Coming out privately to family and close friends can be hard enough, let alone publicly to millions of people.
There have been 13 players who are either gay or bi and came out after their careers ended, most recently Ryan Russell, a defensive lineman with the Cowboys and Buccaneers.
I’ve been doing Outsports for 21 years and have long stopped waiting for an out active pro player. It will happen when it happens, and it hasn’t stopped LGBTQ athletes at the high school, college and amateur levels from telling their stories.
In the meantime, here is the list of NFL players who have come out after retiring:
Played in a regular season game
Dave Kopay (1964-72): Running back with the 49ers, Lions, Redskins, Saints, and Packers.
Jerry Smith (1965-77): Tight end with the Redskins. The NFL Network produced a documentary on Smith being gay.
Ray McDonald (1967-68): Running back
Roy Simmons (1979-83): Offensive lineman with the Giants and Redskins.
Jeff Rohrer (1982-89): Linebacker with the Dallas Cowboys.
Esera Tuaolo (1991-99: Defensive tackle with the Packers, Vikings, Jaguars, Falcons and Panthers.
Kwame Harris (2003-2008): Offensive lineman with the 49ers and Raiders.
Ryan O’Callaghan (2006-2011): Offensive lineman with the Patriots and Chiefs.
Ryan Russell (2015-17, spent 2018 in Bills camp): Defensive lineman with the Buccaneers and Cowboys.
Attended training camp
Wade Davis (2000-2003): Wide receiver with the Titans, Seahawks and Redskins.
Dorien Bryant (2008): Wide receiver with the Steelers.
Brad Thorson (2011): Offensive lineman with the Cardinals.
Michael Sam (2014): Defensive end with the Rams. Also on the Cowboys practice squad.