Part 5: Our Hall of Fame
BY Advocate Contributors
March 28 2012 1:00 AM ET
Dave Kopay tried to fit the profile of a squeaky-clean, all-American football player, and for the most part, he did. Kopay was a star at Notre Dame High School in Los Angeles and was recruited to play at the University of Washington. As co-captain of the Huskies, Kopay led his team to the Pac-10 conference title, and he was named an All-American running back. Kopay was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1964, and led the team in rushing yards in his rookie year. He dated girls and even married a woman, but Kopay knew he was gay.
Kopay was later recruited by the Washington Redskins under legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi, whose brother was gay. The team's assistant general manager and the sport's information director were also gay. Kopay had dated tight end Jerry Smith, a 13-year veteran of the Redskins who later died due to AIDS in the 1980s.
Kopay retired in 1973. Two years later, a frustrated Kopay read an anonymously sourced article about gay athletes and decided it was time. He became the first NFL player to come out and gave an interview to The Advocate in 1976. He later wrote The David Kopay Story, a best-seller in 1977. Though he did apply for coaching jobs in the NFL and college football, Kopay said he largely believes he was turned away because of his sexual orientation.
Since then, Kopay has been working in his family's business while remaining a voice for gay athletes. Only a handful of professional athletes have come out since Kopay, but his story endures as more young athletes look to his example and guidance in their own coming out.