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 2022-06-08
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
Donate

Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

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

This article shared 7459 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 7459 times since Wed Dec 31, 2003
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

Cubs win 'Field of Dreams' game; White Sox, Sky lose 2022-08-12
- In the "Field of Dreams" game on Aug. 11, the Chicago Cubs (46-65) defeated the Cincinnati Reds (44-67) 4-2 in Dyersville, Iowa. True to the nature of the classic 1989 movie, the game was played by ...


Gay News

Sky lose historic game; Cubs fall; White Sox split 2022-08-10
- In what was openly lesbian WNBA legend Sue Bird's final regular-season game against the Chicago Sky (25-9), things certainly were memorable for her and the Seattle Storm (21-13). The Storm defeated the Sky 111-100 at Wintrust ...


Gay News

Sky, Red Stars, Fire and White Sox all win; Cubs do not 2022-08-08
- The Chicago Sky (25-8) extended their franchise record with their 25th victory, defeating the Connecticut Sun (22-11) 94-91 on Aug. 7 at Wintrust Arena in a game that was nationally televised on ABC. Courtney Vandersloot led ...


Gay News

NATIONAL Okla. schools, Tenn. lawsuit, political items, Mich. library 2022-08-07
Video below - Oklahoma public schools have started requiring students from kindergarten to college to complete "biological sex affidavits" if they want to compete in school sports, in accordance with a state law that took effect earlier this year, ...


Gay News

WORLD Zelensky, French position, UK drag-queen shows, triathlons 2022-08-07
- Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed he will ask Ukraine's government to look into legalizing same-sex marriage after the war with Russia ends, PinkNews reported. Ukraine's constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Last ...


Gay News

Sky, Cubs and White Sox all win 2022-08-06
- The Chicago Sky (24-8) defeated the Washington Mystics (20-13) 93-83 at Wintrust Arena on Aug. 5. The Sky tied a franchise record with 24 wins in a single season—a record set during the 2013 WNBA regular ...


Gay News

Brittney Griner found guilty, sentenced to nine years 2022-08-04
- On Aug. 4, a Russian court found out WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty of drug smuggling and possession charges—and sentenced her to nine years in prison. The widely expected verdict came after a monthlong trial ...


Gay News

The Chicago Sky launch The Net: A Mental Health Initiative 2022-08-03
-- From a press release - CHICAGO (Aug. 3, 2022)—As issues of mental health make headlines in sport—and women's sports in particular—the WNBA championship team Chicago Sky launched "The Net," (A Network of Mental Health Support in ...


Gay News

Cubs keep Contreras, Happ; White Sox win; Sky lose 2022-08-03
- In the wake of a 6-0 loss at the St. Louis Cardinals (55-48) on Aug. 2, the Chicago Cubs (41-61) did not trade catcher Willson Contreras or outfielder Ian Happ, WGN-TV noted. Both were listed in ...


Gay News

Chicago Sky's James Wade named WNBA Coach of the Month for second straight time 2022-08-02
-- From a press release - CHICAGO (Aug. 2, 2022)—Chicago Sky General Manager/Head Coach James Wade has been selected as the WNBA Coach of the Month for July, the league announced. This is the second month in a row Wade has won ...


Gay News

Courtney Vandersloot named WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week 2022-08-02
-- From a press release - CHICAGO—The Chicago Sky's Courtney Vandersloot was named WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week, the league announced. This marks the second time this season and eighth time in Vandersloot's 12-year career to receive the honor. Vandersloo ...


Gay News

Vandersloot reaches mark in Sky win; MLB teams split 2022-08-01
- Courtney Vandersloot dished out 12 assists—passing Lindsay Whalen to become number three all-time on the WNBA assists list—as the Sky (23-7) edged the Connecticut Sun (20-10) 95-92 in overtime at Mohegan Sun Arena on July 31. ...


Gay News

WORLD Cuban referendum, Gay Games, Berlin attacks, Indian trans men 2022-07-31
- Cuba's parliament announced that the country will hold a referendum on the legalization of same-sex marriage and surrogate parenthood, Deutsche Welle reported. The referendum on the new family law is scheduled to be held Sunday, Sept. ...


Gay News

Lesbian fighter Amanda Nunes recaptures UFC title 2022-07-31
- On July 30, Amanda Nunes—a Brazilian lesbian who's considered one of the best mixed martial-arts fighters of all time—recaptured the UFC women's bantamweight title from Julianna Pena in a match in Dallas' American Airlines Center, ES ...


Gay News

Red Stars lose; Fire tie Atlanta; Cubs fall but White Sox split 2022-07-31
- On July 30, the visiting Chicago Red Stars (5-3-5) lost to the first-place San Diego Wave (7-3-4) 1-0. Jaedyn Shaw scored for the Wave. Vanessa DiBernardo took home Star of the Match, per a press release. ...


 



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
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     
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.