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Dave Kopay, first out gay NFL player, played for the Lions and 49ers

Out players. Glory holes. Pride initiatives. Offensive tweets. There are myriad LGBTQ connections to this season’s NFL playoffs

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Christian McCaffrey, left, and George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers celebrate after a win against Washington.
Christian McCaffrey, left, and George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers celebrate after a win against Washington. Kittle is welcoming to LGBTQ 49ers fans.
Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Update: A great angle of the NFC championship game between the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers is that Dave Kopay played for both teams. He was drafted by the 49ers and later traded to the Lions. In 1975, Kopay came out as gay, the first NFL player to do so.

Original article:

The NFL playoffs kick off this weekend with six wild-card games and end with Super Bowl LVII on Feb. 11. You can read about all the on-field strategies for each of the 14 teams elsewhere, but only Outsports has the specific LGBTQ angles for fans.

The LGBTQ aspects could have been stronger had different teams made it. For example, it sucked that Jacksonville fell short, since the Jaguars have the only out coach in the league in associate strength coach Kevin Maxen. Of the teams in the playoffs, the best matchup from an LGBTQ angle would be the 49ers vs. the Dolphins, San Francisco vs. South Beach.

Of the 16 gay or bi NFL players who were on an NFL roster at some point, seven played for at least one of the playoff teams this season:

  • Dave Kopay, the first out gay NFL player, played for the Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers.
  • Jeff Rohrer played for the Dallas Cowboys.
  • Carl Nassib played for the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
  • R.K. Russell played for the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys.
  • Ryan O’Callaghan played for the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • Kwame Harris played for the San Francisco 49ers.
  • Esera Tuaolo played for the Green Bay Packers.

Here are the LGBTQ angles to consider. Teams listed in order of seeding.

AFC

Baltimore Ravens (No. 1 seed)

Good: Former Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayanbedejo was such a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights as a player that his teammates asked if he was gay. When Carl Nassib became the first active player to come out as gay in 2021, the Ravens’ website interviewed Ayanbedejo about its impact.

“Like with Jackie Robinson being the first Black player in the MLB, Carl is going to be the first openly gay player to play in a regular-season game,” he said. Hopefully, we get to a point where it doesn’t even register, but we’re not there yet. These watershed moments, we have to celebrate and acknowledge them. Hopefully in 10 years, if there are a bunch of guys that are gay, we don’t even talk about it. Maybe it’s 10 years or maybe it’s one year. I don’t know, but the sooner the better.”

Not so good: Two Ravens are among NFL players who used anti-gay slurs in tweets when they were younger and which are still viewable.

In 2022, quarterback Lamar Jackson apologized after tweeting to a fan to “eat dick.”

Buffalo Bills (2)

Good: The Bills tweeted out during Pride Month that “We’re proud to stand with the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month, and always.” The tweet also included a link to valuable LGBTQ resources in the community.

In 2021, we profiled a gay Bills fan whose post of him wearing a Pride shirt went viral, though it’s not clear if it was the shirt or the bulge that caught people’s attention. The medical student is still part of Bills Mafia.

Ryan Russell, who came out in 2019, played for the Bills.

Not so good: Three Bills are among NFL players who used anti-gay slurs in tweets when they were younger and which are still viewable.

Kansas City Chiefs (3)

Good: Katie Sowers, the first openly gay NFL assistant coach while with the 49ers, spent the 2021 season as a coaching intern with the Chiefs.

Offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan, who came out in 2017, played for the Chiefs.

Out lesbian singer Melissa Etheridge is a longtime Chiefs fan who has sang the national anthem at games.

Houston Texans (4)

Good: The Texans celebrated Pride Month, which caused one fan to comment: “ik this is just pinkwashing or whatever its called but the way its pissing people off makes it worth it i love the houston texans go gay people.”

In 2012, then-Texans linebacker Connor Barwin became one of the few players speaking out for LGBTQ equality when he endorsed same-sex marriage and talked about his love for his gay brother.

Not so good: One Texans player is among NFL players who used anti-gay slurs in tweets when they were younger and which are still viewable.

Cleveland Browns (5)

Good: Carl Nassib was drafted and played for the Browns before he became a free agent and joined the Las Vegas, where in 2021 he came out as gay.

In 2022, then-Browns fullback Johnny Stanton came out forcefully for LGBTQ rights to honor his gay uncle. “I don’t want people to feel like they can’t be their genuine selves like they can’t live truly with who they are and have to hide that from the people who they’re closest with,” Stanton said. “I’m extremely close to my teammates. I can’t imagine not being myself around them.”

Stanton also wore cleats supporting Athlete Ally during the NFL’s My Cleats, My Clause initiative.

Not so good: One Browns player is among NFL players who used anti-gay slurs in tweets when they were younger and which are still viewable.

Miami Dolphins (6)

Dolphins executive RaShauna Hamilton has been out since she was hired by team and has helped guide its embrace of the LGBTQ community as senior director of community relations and youth programs. She helped initiate a community-focused called Football UNITES.

“Since the launch of Football UNITES, the Dolphins organization has participated in the Miami Beach Pride Parade, hosted youth LGBTQ groups at home games and funded life saving programs for the LGBTQ community,” Hamilton wrote in an article for Outsports.

In 2021, then-Dolphins receiver Preston Williams talked about his support for the LGBTQ community. “I’ve got a lot of friends in the LGBT community and I respect their cause,” Williams told Outsports.

Dolphins linebacker/defensive lineman Jaelan Phillips defended the LGBTQ community in a thread in 2015. Phillips is out of the playoffs with an injury.

The Dolphins also held a Pride Day in 2021 during a game against the Atlanta Falcons, a rarity in the NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7)

Staff from the Steelers have marched with other Pittsburgh pro teams in the city’s Pride Revolution Parade.

Other than that, there’s not much to say about the Steelers and LGBTQ issues. We have written in the past about two-decade-old rumors that former quarterback Kordell Stewart is gay. Receiver Dorien Bryant, who is gay, was in training camp with the Steelers in 2008.

NFC

San Francisco 49ers (1)

Good: The 49ers have done a lot to reach out to the LGBTQ community, perhaps not a surprise but welcome nonetheless.

This fall, the team held a drag brunch at Levi’s Stadium.

The team drafted Dave Kopay in 1964, and a year after retiring in 1975 he became the first player to come out as gay. The team has honored Kopay at old-timer’s ceremonies and with an exhibit at the stadium.

The 49ers also had the first out gay coach and the first out coach in the Super Bowl with Katie Sowers during the 2019 season.

Star tight end George Kittle welcomed the team forming a group for fans who identify as LGBTQ. “As we prepare for the upcoming football season, we want to celebrate the passion of all the faithful, no matter how they identify,” said Kittle. “If your team is the Red and Gold, you belong in the 49ers family.”

Not so good: Two 49ers players are among NFL players who used anti-gay slurs in tweets when they were younger and which are still viewable.

Dallas Cowboys (2)

Cyd Zeigler had a take on the Cowboys’ gay links, so I will let him take it away:

“Jeff Rohrer was a second-round pick in the 1982 NFL Draft and played for the legendary Tom Landry from 1982 to 1989. In 2018 he came out publicly shortly before marrying his now-husband, Joshua Ross.

“In 2014, just four days after Michael Sam had been cut by the St. Louis Rams, the Cowboys picked up the defensive end for their practice squad. During his time with the team, owner Jerry Jones said him being gay is “a dead issue. A dead issue.” He’d be with the team for eight weeks before being released.

“RK Russell was selected by the Cowboys in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He came out as bi while a free agent in 2019. He still hopes to return to the league.”

“It’s no secret that gay rumors have swirled for years around quarterback-turned-TV-commentator Troy Aikman. They were given some weight by sports clown Skip Bayless in a book about the Cowboys.

“Aikman threw fuel on the fire in 2015 when he essentially said that he’s chosen to not date men, claiming that being gay is ‘a lifestyle people choose.’

Not so good: One Cowboys player is among NFL players who used anti-gay slurs in tweets when they were younger and which are still viewable.

Say what?: Owner Jerry Jones wants some glory holes.

Detroit Lions (3)

Good: We haven’t written much about the Lions and LGBTQ issues, but it is notable that they celebrated Michael Sam coming out in 2014.

Dave Kopay was a member of the Lions before he came out and had long credited Lions great Alex Karras with saving his life when he was in despair over being gay and closeted. Kopay named his dog Alex in Karras’ honor.

Not so good: Three Lions players are among NFL players who used anti-gay slurs in tweets when they were younger and which are still viewable.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4)

Good: The Buccaneers get major props for signing Carl Nassib as a free agent in 2022, a year after he came out as gay while with the Raiders. One fear of players coming out is what happens when they hit the open market. Nassib had a solid year and Tampa made the playoffs. He retired this year.

We voted the old Tampa Bay helmet as having the gayest logo in NFL history.

Not so good: One Buccaneers player is among NFL players who used anti-gay slurs in tweets when they were younger and which are still viewable.

Philadelphia Eagles (5)

Good: The Eagles commissioned a local artist to design a Pride mural last year that used rainbow eagle wings. “‘Go Birds’ is blended into the background and a rainbow-themed Eagles logo is prominently displayed in the lower-right corner of the mural,” the team said on its website.

Outsports has a soft spot for Philadelphia since so much of our early support came from Philly gay sports fans, so when the Eagles won the Super Bowl in the 2017 season we celebrated them.

Los Angeles Rams (6)

Good: The Rams partnered with Hamburger Mary’s to sponsor a gay bingo event. The Rams were pioneers in having male cheerleaders and had five gay cheerleaders at the February 2022 Super Bowl.

When Outsports published a story on 300 NFL players having offensive anti-gay tweets still visible, Rams tight end Tyler Higbee not only deleted them, he offered a very good apology that shows growth.

“I regret the offensive comments I made on social media in the past,” Higbee told Outsports in a statement sent by the team. “In the 10 years since I typed those words, I have matured as a professional athlete, and as a person. I have recently been named a captain by my fellow teammates and have become a father to a beautiful baby girl. I strive to be a role model in both of those responsibilities and a positive example to those who look up to and depend on me.

“Since moving to Los Angeles, I have encountered people from all walks of life and beliefs, and I have learned the value of diversity and inclusion — on and off the field. Again, those comments do not represent who I have become and I apologize to all those who were hurt by those words.”

Not so good: One Rams player is among NFL players who used anti-gay slurs in tweets when they were younger and which are still viewable.

Green Bay Packers (7)

Good: Dave Kopay played for the Packers, ending his career there in 1972, which included a trip to the playoffs.

Esera Tuaolo played for the Packers and has also sang the national anthem at Lambeau Field.

The Packers are trying to get more involved in the LGBTQ community, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“Pride Month in June, when the team usually conducts its minicamp, is when the Packers display the NFL Pride logo on the Lambeau Field marquees and feature Pride-centric merchandise in the Packers Pro Shop. The Packers also previously hosted a Pride Panel for its employees that featured LGBTQ+ leaders and featured guest speakers on LGBTQ+ topics.

“The Packers also hired Rob Davis in April as director of organizational development & diversity, equity and inclusion, a new position, and Davis is also expected to includes LGBTQ+ as part of his focus, according to a team spokesman. The Packers also are a member of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce and have sponsored the NEW Pride Alive festival.”