Wade Davis II, the speaker at Monday’s UCF’s Diversity Week kickoff breakfast, is the National Football League’s first LGBT diversity and inclusion consultant.
He played football at Mesa State and Weber State, and was a part of the NFL family from 2000 to 2003, when he retired because of a leg injury. During those years he played in preseason games for the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, and in regular season games for the NFL Europe teams Berlin Thunder and Barcelona Dragons. He helped the Thunder win the World Bowl IX in 2001.
In 2010 he started working at an organization that works with LGBTQ youth to teach life skills, and in 2012 publicly started speaking about what it was like to be closeted and gay in the NFL. He since has worked with various organizations to fight homophobia in sports, promote community and teach leadership.
On Monday, the activist, writer and educator spoke to the UCF Today.
Do you think it’s harder or easier to come out now? Why?
I don’t think it’s more difficult or easier. I think it is relative. I use the language of “inviting in,” the language of [writer and activist] Darnell Moore. I think inviting someone in to know more about you is personal and I think it’s just depending on where you’re at. I think there’s just so many different factors or variables that go into telling the world that you’re LGBTQ that it’s individual.
I think when we say it’s easier now, we’re looking at it from a perspective that’s too general. When you are LGBT, you know that it’s individual and personal and not something that you can quantify based on where we’re at as a society.
In 2016 you gave a TEDx talk at the University of Florida called “The Mask of Masculinity.” What was the takeaway from that message?
When people listen to that talk, the thing that they take away the most is that until women are free, men can never be free. That’s probably the thing that people takeaway the most. What I also wanted people to take away from that one was that there’s a cost to not having an inclusive society and the cost is the loss of self.
What would you say is your most memorable moment as an athlete?
Oh. Signing my first NFL contract…
I was expecting a play or…
No. I never expected to make it to the NFL. So when I got a package in the mail from the Tennessee Titans and it had my name on it, and it said “sign below,” and you’re going to be a part of the NFL, I could have died there and been OK.
How is sports changing in these times of diversity and inclusion?
I think athletes are taking more risk to push the viewers, to push owners and cultures to value them as more than just athletes, as for human beings who have families, who have wives, daughters, partners, all of that. I think that that’s the space that we’re in now when athletes are standing in their circumstantial risk more than they ever have.
How do you encourage people to tell their own stories?
I try to model it. I don’t like to tell people anything. I like to model things and hope that they will take from it what they need. But I think that when you tell people what to do, you limit what they can take from it. Because then I have an idea for what I want you to take if I’m telling you. But if I’m pushing you, if I’m asking you questions and if I’m just using my own story almost as the proxy, then I think then you can pull from it what you need and not what I think that you need.
How will diversity and inclusion awareness change society in the next 10 years?
We could be here for all day trying to answer that question. I will say what I hope it does. I hope that those who are in power — and they may be more in power of all genders, of all races, of all sexual orientations — I hope that diversity and inclusion allows them to understand that they benefit too, that it’s not benefiting the other alone, that they have a great deal and sometimes more to gain.
What are you wrestling with the most now?
What I’m wrestling with the most now is how do I do work that is enlivening to me but also be a great brother, son, partner, friend. That is what I’m wrestling with because I’m attempting to give so much of myself to people who don’t know me, that how do I make sure that I’m doing the same to people who do.
In your push for reading in education, how do you try to get people to read more?
They have to see what’s in it for them. Hopefully, they see what’s in it for them as ability to connect with someone else and not see it as just something that they’re taking and that they’re not exchanging. I think that they’ve got to realize that it’s just not a zero-sum game. Reading is something that I wasn’t good at. I don’t know if I’m good at it now. I enjoy it more. Reading is how I realized that my story is not the only story and reading is how I realize how deeply connected I am to the rest of the world.