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Former NFL player, gay advocate commences lecture series

October 05, 2010

David Kopay, one of the first openly gay American professional athletes in team sports, is coming to ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus to discuss sports and homosexuality.

The former running back played 10 seasons in the National Football League and shook the sports world in 1975 when he publicly announced to a national newspaper that he was gay. 

Kopay’s “Sports and Homosexuality” is the subject of the second fall 2010 Humanities Lecture Series, co-sponsored by ASU’s School of Letters and Sciences and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association (NLGJA) student chapter at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Communications. His lecture takes place at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 21, at the  Cronkite School, 555 N. Central Ave., First Amendment Forum, Phoenix.

This year’s lecture series examines human issues related to sports, and is free and open to the public.

“When I came out as a gay man, I was confronting bigotry, the silence, and the hatred directed towards gay men and women," Kopay said in a 2009 speech. "Gay men had always been considered weak and silly and equated with women as being something less. Sure, hatred still exists, but there is a huge difference now. Hatred, dominance and brutality are no longer considered fashionable, celebrated or tolerated. Hopefully more people will continue to embrace change and diversity.”

Kopay grew up in Southern California and entered the University of Washington from 1961 to 1964; he completed his degree in history in 1966. Kopay was named All-American his senior year as well as Rose Bowl co-captain. He was signed by the San Francisco 49ers in 1964, and eventually played for Detroit, New Orleans, Green Bay and Washington, where he played under coaching legend Vince Lombardi.

After Kopay retired from football, he wanted to coach professionally, but said he believes his sexual orientation might have prevented him from getting a job in the NFL. Kopay eventually went to work for his uncle’s business, Linoleum City, a leading supplier of flooring to the motion picture and television industries in Hollywood.

His 1977 autobiography, "The David Kopay Story," stayed on the New York Times’ best-seller list for 10 weeks, and for the first time let readers into the world of professional football athletes, their sexual exploits, and the homophobia that forced Kopay to stay in the closet during his playing days in the NFL. That same year Kopay championed rights for gays in front of Congress, the National Bar Association in 1979, and the American Association of Pediatrics in 1980.

Since Kopay retired, only two other former NFL Players have come out: Roy Simmons in 1992 and Esera Tuaolo in 2002. Kopay has been credited with inspiring these athletes to be more open about their sexual orientation.

Kopay became a Gay Games Ambassador for the Federation of Gay Games in July 2006 and a year later announced a testamentary pledge of $1 million – nearly half of his estate – to the University of Washington’s Q Center, a resource for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. The Q Center’s mission is to create an inclusive and celebratory environment for people of all sexual orientations.

“David Kopay’s story is important for students to hear because it builds awareness for those not familiar with gay issues,” said Anthony Dewitt, NGLJA student chapter president. “By hearing Kopay’s story, my hope is that students can make informed judgments about LGBT citizens and realize we are just like anyone else. We feel this is a wonderful opportunity for all students, especially those in journalism, to be exposed to other voices they might not otherwise get a chance to listen to.”

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Media contact:
Marshall Terrill
Information Specialist
(602) 496-1005