Windy City Media Group Frontpage News

THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985

home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2021-12-08
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
Donate

Sponsor


  WINDY CITY TIMES

Sports Complex
The Gay Gridiron
by Jim Provenzano
2003-12-31

This article shared 6996 times since Wed Dec 31, 2003
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


Pictured: Jerry Smith Who was the first gay football player to play in the Super Bowl? Esera Tuaolo, who came out last year, played for the Atlanta Falcons in the 1998 Super Bowl, but he wasn't the first. Neither was Roy Simmons, a Washington Redskins offensive guard, who played at the 1984 game. He later came out on a 1992 episode of The Phil Donahue Show, and as HIV-positive in a 2003 New York Times article.

If you're thinking David Kopay, you're close. Go back a little further to learn the story of another Redskin, one of football's most accomplished players, gay or straight: Jerry Smith.

Kopay, who played for five teams during his 10-year career (unfortunately, no Super Bowl) says that four members of the 1969 and 1970 Redskins were gay or bisexual. For a time, Jerry Smith was his lover.

Smith was born in 1943 in Livermore, Calif., and raised Catholic. A Redskins tight end from 1965 to 1977, he caught 421 passes and scored 60 touchdowns in his career—a record unsurpassed until just last year. Smith was the league's third best in pass receptions.

When Kopay joined the Redskins in 1969, he recalls one of his co-captains encouraging his friendship with Smith. 'Supposedly the guys didn't know I was queer, but maybe they did,' Kopay told me. 'They'd say [about Jerry], 'He's a guy who thinks a lot like you. You guys are gonna have fun together.' We became close friends, being on the same offensive team. We had to compliment each other on blocking schemes and pass patterns.'

Kopay says that Redskins Coach Vince Lombardi was a great mentor to both players, and had a relative and two staff members who were gay. In the book Run to Win: Vince Lombardi on Coaching and Leadership, Smith is quoted as saying, 'All the things a man searches for all his life I found in Coach Lombardi.'

Could it have been Lombardi's enlightened attitude that helped Smith's career in an otherwise homophobic sport? Kopay says, 'I think in today's world, Lombardi would react [to gay players] totally different than a lot of people think he would. He was very compassionate, loving—he loved Jerry.'

Understandably, despite some acceptance, 'Jerry was guarded at first,' says Kopay. During their early friendship, Smith lived with Joe Blair in Silver Springs, Md.

'He was well-respected among his peers, so I became accepted because Jerry accepted me,' says Kopay, who credits Smith—blond, affable, and 'California casual'—with helping him accept his sexuality. '

Jerry lived life big,' Kopay says. Visiting discos and bars along their travels, Smith charmed men, and occasionally women, into one-night encounters. He was charismatic, yet unwilling to get emotionally involved with Kopay.

'He didn't want to recognize it as a relationship, just purely a physical release,' says Kopay. Smith believed a gay relationship 'would probably be impossible,' and his liaison with Kopay lasted only part of a season.

Smith had affairs with several other NFL players, too. In the off-season, he traveled through Europe. More than a mere playboy, though, Smith also worked in a summer camp for inner-city kids.

After being cut from the team, Kopay parted ways with Smith, who continued playing with the Redskins for eight more years. Reporting on his performance in the 1973 Super Bowl VII, Sports Illustrated described Smith, then 29, as 'an outstanding receiver among tight ends, with the ability to break open for a long gain.' Then in 1975 came a Washington Star article, which claimed that three NFL starting quarterbacks were gay. Kopay says one of the unnamed sources was Smith. Kopay called the reporter and came out in a subsequent article. One of the first people Kopay heard from after his coming out was Smith. Doing his best Vince Lombardi imitation, Smith told Kopay over the phone, 'You're really something, Mister. You're really something.'

As Kopay garnered international attention following the publication of his autobiography, he also became a symbol that defied stereotypes. A screenplay based on his book is in development.

Indirectly, Jerry Smith may have been responsible for inspiring the first former pro gay athlete to officially come out, paving the way for dozens more in other sports. And yet, Smith himself never really came out. After retiring from football, he lived in different cities and co-owned The Boathouse, a gay bar in Austin, Texas. Before dying of AIDS on Oct. 15, 1986, Smith acknowledged having the disease. Despite the importance of his being the first former pro athlete to die of AIDS, The New York Times shunted the story to a back page.

In 2003, the Denver Broncos' Shannon Sharpe was entered into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio—for outdoing Smith's record of 60 by one touchdown. It's almost as if the Hall of Fame had been waiting for someone to surpass Smith, rather than give posthumous honors to the fascinating yet elusive man who held the record for nearly 25 years. Jim Provenzano is the author of the novels PINS and Monkey Suits. Read more sports articles at www.sportscomplex.org . He can be reached care of this publication or at SportsComplex@qsyndicate.com .


This article shared 6996 times since Wed Dec 31, 2003
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

Talks begin for new Near West Side major league soccer training facility 2022-01-27
-- From a press release - CHICAGO — Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, Chicago Fire Football Club, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward),and Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) CEO Tracey Scott announced the start of preliminary discussions on a ...


Gay News

SPORTS Bulls, Blackhawks prevail 2022-01-27
- The Chicago Bulls (30-17) defeated the Toronto Raptors (23-23) 111-105 at the United Center on Jan. 26 to pull into second place in the Eastern Conference. Nikola Vucevic hit a three-pointer from the left wing with ...


Gay News

Chicago Sky hire Ann Wauters as assistant coach 2022-01-26
- The defending WNBA champion Chicago Sky have hired Ann Wauters as an assistant coach, General Manager/Head Coach James Wade announced in a press statement. "We are very excited to welcome Ann to our staff." Wade said. ...


Gay News

Chicago Red Stars appoint Michelle Lomnicki associate general manager 2022-01-26
-- From a press release - CHICAGO, IL. (Jan. 26, 2022) — Michelle Lomnicki, a former player for the Chicago Red Stars, has been named the club's associate general manager. "We're thrilled to have Michelle expand her role with the Red Stars," ...


Gay News

Chicago Bears hire Ryan Poles as general manager 2022-01-26
- The Chicago Bears have hired Ryan Poles, 36, as their next general manager, a press release stated. Poles has spent the last 13 seasons working with the Kansas City Chiefs as a player personnel assistant (2009), ...


Gay News

SPORTS Bulls edge Oklahoma City 111-110 2022-01-25
- The Chicago Bulls (29-17) barely got back in the win column, edging the Oklahoma City Thunder (14-33) 111-110 in Oklahoma. Zach LaVine—who had missed several games with an injury—scored 23 points along with seven assists and ...


Gay News

ICYMI: NCAA Facilitator quits in protest of NCAA's failure to protect trans athletes 2022-01-24
-- From a press release - WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Dorian Rhea Debussy, Ph.D. (they/them), one of 54 facilitators in the NCAA Division III LGBTQ OneTeam program, resigned in protest of recent actions the NCAA has taken, including a new policy around ...


Gay News

SPORTS Bulls fall to lowly Orlando 114-95 2022-01-24
- The short-handed Chicago Bulls (28-17) continued their slide, losing to the Orlando Magic (9-39) 114-95 on Jan. 23 in Florida. The Bulls were recently first in the Eastern Conference; now, they're in third place. DeMar DeRozan ...


Gay News

SHOWBIZ 'The Gay Agenda,' Elliot Page, actress dies, sports items, Rock Hudson 2022-01-23
- Netflix has launched The Gay Agenda, a podcast that looks at the lives of LGBTQ creatives at the top of their fields across different industries, NBC News noted. The goal, the streaming service said, is to ...


Gay News

SPORTS Packers fall to 49ers in NFL playoffs 2022-01-23
- The Green Bay Packers made the NFL playoffs while the Chicago Bears didn't. However, they'll both be watching this year's Super Bowl from home after the top-seeded Packers (13-5) fell to the San Francisco 49ers (12-7) ...


Gay News

Bulls, Blackhawks fall short; 'Hawks reschedule games 2022-01-22
- In NBA action, the Chicago Bulls (28-16) fell short against the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks (29-19), losing 94-90 in Wisconsin on Jan. 21. Bulls coach Billy Donovan was livid after the game. He was upset about Bucks ...


Gay News

HRC condemns NCAA for failure to protect LGBTQ+ athletes 2022-01-21
-- From a press release - WASHINGTON, D.C. — Late last night, the NCAA ratified (https://www.ncaa.org/news/2022/1/20/media-center-ncaa-members-approve-new-constitution.aspx) its new constitution, which does not include nondiscrimination policy language that had ...


Gay News

SPORTS Bulls end losing streak against Cleveland 2022-01-20
- The Chicago Bulls (28-15) ended their four-game losing streak with a sorely needed 117-104 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers (27-19) on Jan. 19 at the United Center. DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic combined for 54 points, ...


Gay News

NCAA updates trans-related policies 2022-01-20
- The NCAA has adopted a sport-by-sport approach for transgender athletes, bringing the organization in line with the U.S. and International Olympic Committees (IOC), POLITICO reported. Under the new guidelines, approved ...


Gay News

Texas' anti-trans youth sports law goes into effect 2022-01-18
- A new Texas law bars transgender student athletes from competing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity, Houston Public Media reported. House Bill 25 is one of several laws that went into effect ...


 



Copyright © 2022 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 
 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS






Donate


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.