Ex-Footballer Wade Davis Explains How Fighting Homophobia Led Him To Discover Feminism

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He is the ex pro-footballer who publicly declared he was gay in 2012, which shocked the die-hard American sports world. Wade Davis has previously played for the Titans, Redskins and Seahawks, but these days he is better known for his advocacy work and speaking out for equality.

Not only has he become one of a few African-American pro athletes to come out of the closet and allow the way for many other athletes in such a hyper-masculine industry where gender roles are well and truly kept in line, but he has also become a powerful voice in a movement which needs more celebrities to join the fight against certain types of discrimination.

The coolest thing about his journey is that it is not just about being a voice for the LGBT community, but also for feminism and gender equality. He has become a UN Women He For She ambassador, was appointed as the Executive Director for the athletic LGBT organization group You Can Play, and has also taken part in Ebony Magazine & the Ms. Foundation’s series about men and feminism, as well as the Foundation’s #MyFeminismIs campaign, which has been promoted on Ms. Magazine and a number of other online outlets, including ours!

He told The Huffington Post in a recent interview that his path to finding feminism and becoming an advocate for women’s rights as well as LGBT issues, came after he realized they were interconnected.

“I really started to connect the fact that even though I was fighting to end homophobia, I realized the root of homophobia was sexism. If I didn’t join women in fighting to end sexism, the patriarchy and misogyny — we would never ever end homophobia,” he said.

He has realized the importance of male allies and wants to encourage more men to stand up for women, because in the end they will also benefit from a more gender equal society.

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“Right now feminism, gender equality, closing the wage gap — all of these things are thought to be a woman’s job. We need to turn to men and say, ‘This is our job. We’re all in this together’,” he added.

Wade told Alanna Vagianos from Huffpost that once he thought about it more seriously, his feminist tendencies started as young as 7, when he could attend a Baptist church and ask his mother why there were no women preaching. Since 2010 he has been reading a lot of books about feminism and it has challenged his perception of sexism in a way he hopes he can then in turn influence other men.

“The more reading I do, the more I realize that I actually think the root of all our evil is the hatred of women. I try to push people, male or female, to start just re-imagining how the world would look different if we thought of God as a woman. How different would our world be?” he said, dropping names like Audre Lorde, Sheryl Sandberg and Gloria Steinem as some of the authors who helped shape his views on women.

“To be able to look at the world [from these women’s perspectives] has really helped shape the way that I think about our world and how women — if they were actually free — it’d be so much different,” he said.

One of the reasons he believes it is important for men to engage in feminist conversations is because often they don’t listen to women in the first place. Feminism can be the space which allows them to come to a greater understanding of just how personal the problems they face are.

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“Often men are so sexist that we will only listen to other men. And that creates a scary dynamic, because often we don’t hold other men accountable when we’re having these male-only conversations. Men need to listen to women, and we also need to educate ourselves so we’re not adding more labor on women to further educate us about what the world is like for women. It’s on men to do the work to talk to other men, to meet them where they’re at on this journey and then hopefully make the language accessible,” he said.

Being a black man makes him a very important representative in the fight for gender equality, because he says there is a (heavily perpetuated) myth that black men and too hyper-masculine to even be part of conversations about women’s rights.

“Part of my job is to share other narratives so people can start to not think of black men in one, very narrow, monolithic way. So many black men have reached out to me and said, ‘I may not identify publicly as a feminist, but I actually believe in what feminism is about.’ I think that it was really really powerful for black men, for black women and for people in general to see black men engaging in this conversation,” he said.

He shares a powerful space with another black former footballer – Terry Crews. He too has been an outspoken advocate of breaking down the misconception around what being a “man” should look like.

An interesting aspect of his advocacy, which sits right at the intersection of sexism and homophobia, is how he encourages other gay men to speak out against sexism.

“Whether subconsciously or consciously [they] often think they’re gender advocates but don’t actually do anything. It’s not enough to say, ‘Well I’m gay so clearly I can’t be sexist.’ No, we’re all sexist. We have to first own that…Sexism, they say, is the first form of oppression you learn, because you learn it in the home. It’s the gender roles you watch, either with your parents or someone in your life or on television,” he said.

That is something we have touched on in a number of different ways, outlining how all of us who grow up with heav media influence, without knowing, are programmed to think a certain way about gender identity. It takes advocates and celebrities with impact and social currency like Wade Davis to be part of the movement to break that hold.

Of course, being an ex-footballer, the issue of how the NFL treats domestic violence had to come up because it has become clear over the past few years, that this is actually an on-going issue that has been covered up for far too long, instead of being treated at the root. As an NFL LGBT consultant, Wade says he conducts training sessions where he addresses gender issues with the players and team staff members in order to get them to see the issue from the perspective of those affected the most.

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“The first thing the NFL should do is be proactive instead of being so reactive…One of the things I also try to do is use vignettes to put players in the shoes of someone else. You have to be able to empathize with what that person is going through for you to be able to step out of your own shoes and say, ‘OK if I was this person I can imagine how that would feel.’ We all know what shame feels like or fear feels like. The challenge is, how do you get someone to step out of their own privilege?” he asks.

He visits LGBT youth organization with football players so they can see first hand who the hyper-masculine ideals often affect, and he also presents an interesting suggestion in terms of enabling punishment of a player to become a teaching moment.

“If we did fine these players, how powerful would that money be if it went to a women’s shelter or an LGBT youth-serving organization? Then people could say that their mistake is actually benefiting someone. So we’re trying to get the NFL — and all the sports leagues — to be more strategic,” he said.

Wade’s most recent endeavor was giving a TEDx Talk in April about the “Mask of Masculinity”, stressing how it does more harm than good to both men and women.

“When I gave that TED Talk about masculinity, I was thinking about women too,” he said. In the 15 minute video below, he brilliantly breaks down how the mask placed on men from an early age, and especially in the testosterone-fueled world of competitive professional sports, has to be dismantled if we are ever going to move forward.

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This message needs to be heard loud and clear, because as we saw from the way the Ray Rice domestic violence incident was handled, as well as how star college footballers are treated when it comes to being accused of rape in the eye-opening documentary ‘The Hunting Ground’, it starts with the message these men are given from a young age about their privilege, power, and gender identity.

As an aside, if after watching Wade’s TEDx Talk below you are looking for another great resource which breaks down hyper-masculine ideals, we highly recommend ‘The Mask You Live In’ by the same creators of ‘Miss Representation’ (available on-demand).

Intersectionality and feminism allows us to uncover and peel back the harmful gender norms and masks that we have been told to wear for way too long. The more we can gain empathy about each other’s lived experiences, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a risk for a black, male pro athlete to come out of the closet, or it wouldn’t be such a big deal for a woman to walk down the street at night wondering whether she is safe.

Gender equality is not just about benefiting a small group of people, but empowering those who have been oppressed throughout history and allowing those trapped within patriarchal standards of power and privilege to live outside the lines without feeling like they are losing who they are.

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