Matt Willig specialized in blocking opposing defensemen during his career as an offensive tackle in the NFL — now he’s out to block homophobia.
Willig, who played for several teams, including the XXXIV Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams, during his 1992-2005 pro football career, discusses his support for marriage equality and LGBT rights in general with Outsports.
Willig, who is straight, says no teammate ever came out to him, but he strongly suspected one was gay, and he expects there were several others, given the percentage of gay people in the population. “I would have relished the opportunity to stand up alongside a player who came out while he was playing and say it doesn’t change a thing about how I feel about this guy,” he says.
He adds, “Most guys would have 10 gay guys on their team if it meant winning a Super Bowl. If tomorrow 20 of the top 30 athletes in the NFL came out and said they were gay, I don’t think it would matter a bit to the guys looking to win those rings.”
He also describes the tension between his Roman Catholic faith and his support for marriage equality. He eventually decided that he could remain in the church and disagree with the hierarchy on this issue, as he considers individual rights more important than dogma, and he’s trying to impart his beliefs to his two daughters.
“I am the evolution of middle America,” he says. “People are struggling with how they grew up and how their parents have seen things. And I wanted to talk about my experiences, and that I evolved into feeling that equality and treating everyone the same is the utmost important thing.” He posed for the No H8 campaign in June.
Post-football, Willig is pursuing an acting career. He has appeared in several TV series and independent films, and will be seen next year in the big-screen comedy We’re the Millers, with Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Ed Helms, and Jason Sudeikis.