by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
It's good to be a Seattleite lately. Let's face it; the city is on a roll. From marriage equality to electing Ed Murray as mayor to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis taking the music scene by storm and Jinkx Monsoon winning Season Six of RuPaul's Drag Race, people are actually beginning to see the Emerald City as more than just a bunch of passive-aggressive people living in the rain soaked shadow of the Space Needle.
But all of that is small potatoes compared to the monumental ultimate win of all wins: The Super Bowl. And last Sunday, in front of a U.S. television broadcast record 111.5 million viewers, the Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos 43-8. Of all households in Seattle that were watching TV on Sunday night, 92% were tuned to the Super Bowl. On Wednesday, 700,000 fans jammed downtown Seattle to celebrate the city's first Super Bowl win in franchise history. People began to stakeout their spot on the parade route before sunrise, grown men wept and Seahawks players threw jerseys and T-shirts to fans while waving blue '12' flags in honor of the fans.
Seattle's openly Gay mayor, Ed Murray, who some have dubbed the '12th Mayor,' appeared on the Today show and The Colbert Report leading up to the game, and has got to be proud of us. Fans launched fireworks, blared horns and partied across the city as the final seconds of the Super Bowl ticked away. The celebration lasted into the night. But there was little-to-no rioting. Aside from a few small fires and damage done to the Pioneer Square pergola (which Seattleites chipped in $16,046 to a Gofundme online fundraiser within days to help repair it) Seattle showed the world that it is possible to celebrate without vandalism and violence. In a video posted on Youtube that made the rounds all week, a large group of fans are seen celebrating the Super Bowl win last Sunday in Ballard and they actually wait on the sidewalk until the light turns and they cross the street - avoiding jaywalking - all the while cheering and giving each other high-fives.
So, yeah it feels great to live right here, right now.
Football and Gays. The two don't really seem to go together do they? I mean, of course there are Gay football fans (and players for that matter) and the Lesbians sure turn out for the games, popular opinion doesn't really point to a match made in Heaven. Let's face it - in a professional sport where not even one player has come out as Gay, interest will wane.
Now that's not to say that Gay and Bisexual players aren't there. Of course they are. They just aren't out is all. With all the players coming out in college and high school - football, basketball, and the like - it would seem that as the older generation fades out, we could see the first openly Gay National Football League athlete within the next five years. And wouldn't it just be perfect if that player was on the Seahawks roster? Well, there's no way of knowing which team and at what time, but I think it's a safe bet that the question isn't of 'if' but 'when.'
Well, here at the Seattle Gay News we think that, given the football fever that's got hold of the city, now is the perfect time to educate our readers about Dave Kopay.
Dave Kopay became the first NFL player to do what OutSport's editors call the 'most important moment in Gay sports history.' Three years into retirement Kopay came out as Gay. The year was 1975.
Kopay was raised in Chicago and Los Angeles, and attended a Roman Catholic seminary before starting at the University of Washington. Kopay attended the UW from 1961 to 1964; he completed his degree in history in 1966. Kopay became an All-American running back in his senior year, leading the team to the 1964 Rose Bowl as co-captain.
As a University of Washington alumnus, in 2007 Kopay pledged $1 million to the UW's Q Center, whose mission is to create an inclusive and celebratory environment for people of all sexual orientations.
'The greatest gift we can give one another is the vision and beauty of life,' Kopay said in an interview when he donated the money. 'I continually hear from people all over the world that my act of coming out especially when I did in 1975 has empowered them in their search for self and to see their vision. Hopefully, my million dollar pledge will influence others to support the University and the Q Center continue to help others to do just that.'
In 2007, during half time of the Huskies' home opener against Boise State, Kopay was inducted as a Husky Legend. Just thinking about walking out to midfield of Husky Stadium before 72,000 purple-clad fans caused Kopay to choke up and take a moment to compose his thoughts during an interview with OutSports in 2007.
'It gets me emotional, it makes me cry,' he said. 'I just get this feeling - I'm no different than anyone else. But people have to be able to see who we are and see that we're everywhere.'
Despite wrestling with his sexuality, Kopay said he had many fond memories of his football days, especially his 1964 senior season when he led the Huskies to the Rose Bowl. 'The fans in Washington were always so incredibly supportive of me.'
This continued nearly 40 years later when Kopay was selected a captain for an alumni game.
In addition, Kopay was named, during the 40th anniversary edition of the Advocate, as one of the 40 Gay and Lesbian heroes of that time. 'That really makes me feel validated in a way,' he says, referring to times early in the Gay movement when some activists criticized him for being too outspoken.
Kopay championed Gay rights in front of Congress in 1977, the American Bar Association in 1979, and the American Association of Pediatrics in 1980.
Kopay played professional football with the San Francisco 49ers from 1964 to 1967, the Detroit Lions in 1968, the Washington Redskins in 1969-70, the New Orleans Saints in 1971 and the Green Bay Packers in 1972.
While a running back for the Washington Redskins, Kopay says he had a relationship with teammate Jerry Smith, a star tight end for the team from 1965-1977. At the time of their affair, the legendary Vince Lombardi was head coach of the team.
'That was like my first real coming-out experience,' Kopay told ESPN in a 1998 interview. 'Jerry was much more worldly than I was. He had been to a number of countries, had a number of different lovers. It was an emotional moment for me since it was new, but it meant little to him. Still, I am thankful for his aggressiveness.'
Things were different then. Kopay has said that looking for Gay sex was virtually nonexistent. But there were ways in which one could get around without living a life of solitude.
'When I was in the NFL, I had group sex involving women as a way to have sex with men, often other athletes,' he said.
'A lot of guys were married and they'd go home to their wives,' he said. 'So the fact that I didn't date a whole lot of women wasn't unusual. Also, the fact that I moved around to six teams over my career, people didn't get as close to me, so it was easier in that regard.'
'Also, the time was the 1960s and '70s, and there was room for sexual experimentation, a little bit,' said Kopay. 'And I did exactly that.'
In 1997 Kopay told The New York Times he was 'out' to many of his teammates. Most were willing to judge him on his value to the team and nothing more he said. But he remembers how close he came to fighting one Redskins defensive lineman.
'A total jerk, a big queer-basher and naturally a favorite of Coach George Allen,' Kopay said. 'He was a drunk, he did drugs, and he took money from homosexuals for sex. He had a couple of local queens as sugar daddies, but he never considered himself homosexual.
'He started giving me a hard time. We would have fought, but Leonard Hauss, the great center and a team leader, stepped in. He told the guy to shut up, that I was a productive member of the team. The guy shut up.'
In 1975, Kopay famously gave an interview to the Washington Star in which he declared he was Gay.
Kopay had been reading Lynn Rosellini's ground-breaking Washington Star series about Gay athletes and recognized an anonymous Gay source as his former teammate who he'd slept with, Jerry Smith. Kopay called Rosellini and became the key public name in her series.
In 1977, he published a book, The David Kopay Story, with Perry Deane Young. Kopay and Smith had often talked about writing a book together. Sadly, that would never happen. Smith died of complications from AIDS in 1987 at age forty-three without having ever publicly acknowledged being Gay.
Kopay says Smith's legacy has been tarnished when his sexual orientation became public with his death. Matt Maiocco writes in his book, San Francisco 49ers, 'Smith is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, though his statistics clearly support his case. And when Shannon Sharper broke his NFL record for most career touchdown catches by a tight end, Smith was rarely spoken or written about as the man whose record was being broken.'
Last year, when NBA player Jason Collins came out as Gay, Kopay became emotional. He was overjoyed. According to Jim Buzinski at OutSports, 'I could hear him choking up.'
'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.'
'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,' he said. '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.'
Still, Kopay is holding on to hope that one day soon a pro football player - while on contract - will come out as Gay. '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.'
At the end of the day, it would seem that Kopay wants the world to celebrate love over more than anything.
'People want to hear that sexuality is a cut-and-dried, easily definable situation. But we are made up of both female and male chromosomes, and I think the whole range of sexuality is on a fulcrum,' he said. 'It varies, and everyone can have homosexual fantasies or love or whatever. I think there's just not enough love, period, in the world. I can't understand why people get so upset with that expression - unless, again, they are fighting their own fears. It seems the people who are most comfortable, who are the most secure in their sexuality.'
'I've had heterosexual men tell me 'thank you' for a compliment; they're flattered by the attention, not offended by it,' said Kopay. 'You certainly don't look at everyone with a sexual intention, anyway. The male and female body is an incredibly beautiful thing, and we should honor it.'
The David Kopay Story remains a continuing favorite with people - pro athlete or not - coming to grips with their sexual identities. And Kopay continues to be an outspoken advocate for Gays in and out of professional sports.
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