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15 major league football players who have come out as gay or bisexual

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In the realm of football, where toughness, resilience, and hetero-masculinity (whatever that is) are often synonymous with success, a select group of players has fearlessly stood in their truth, proudly proclaiming their authentic selves. Beyond the fancy footwork and rough combat, these athletes have bravely embraced their identity and sexuality, adding a new chapter to the sport’s history. 

Read on for a list of 15 NFL players who have come out as gay (or bisexual!), shattering preconceived notions and fostering inclusivity in a sport that—let’s be honest—could use a lot more. So, let’s kick things off and applaud these trailblazers who have not only excelled on the pitch, but have also shown that authenticity and diversity are integral elements on the football field.

Dave Kopay

Former NFL running back, Dave Kopay was the first major professional athlete to come out in any sport, let alone football. Kopay played pro football from 1964 to 1972, and came out as gay in 1975, three years after he retired. He was a top contender for coaching positions, but it is believed he was snubbed because of his sexual orientation. 

Wade Davis

Cornerback Wade Davis played with the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks, and Washington Redskins. He also played with the NFL Europe teams Berlin Thunder and Barcelona Dragons. Davis came out as gay in 2012, almost ten years after retiring from the NFL due to injury, and has since spoken publicly about his experience being closeted in the NFL, and advocates to eradicate homophobia in pro sports. 

Kwame Harris 

After five seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and one season with the Oakland Raiders, offensive tackle Kwame Harris was outed as gay in 2013 after being convicted on misdemeanor counts of domestic violence, assault and battery against his ex-boyfriend. He later confirmed his sexuality on CNN and ESPN

Edward “Chip” Sarafin

The former offensive lineman was the first active college football player in Division I to publicly come out as gay. He shared his sexuality with local LGBTQ publication, Compete in 2014

Roy Simmons

Roy Simmons was an offensive lineman for the New York Giants and Washington Redskins. He was the second ever former NFL player to come out as gay, and the first to disclose that he was HIV-positive. He died of complications from pneumonia in 2014. 

Brian Sims 

In 2000, Brian Sims was named co-captain for the Bloomsburg University football team. During that season, Sims came out as gay to his teammates, thus making him the first openly gay college football captain in NCAA history. Sims has since entered politics, and in 2012 became the first openly gay politician ever elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

My-King Johnson

My-King Johnson was the first openly gay scholarship player in major college football. The defensive end graduated from Tempe High School and was recruited by the University of Arizona. 

Scott Frantz

Former Kansas State offensive tackle, Scott Frantz, came out publicly as gay in 2017 in an interview with ESPN. He went undrafted in the 2020 NFL draft. 

Ryan Russell

Ryan Russell was a defensive end in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After football, he started writing and in 2019 he came out publicly as bisexual in an essay for ESPN. At the same time, he and his boyfriend, Corey O’Brien, launched a YouTube channel. Russell published a memoir in 2023 that has been optioned for a television series. 

Jerry Smith

Jerry Smith played for the Washington Redskins as a tight end for 13 seasons from 1965 to 1977. Less than two months before his death in 1986, he disclosed to The Washington Post that he was dying of an AIDS-related illness, but didn’t elaborate further on his personal life. Smith’s homosexuality was documented posthumously, and he apparently had a short-lived relationship with Dave Kopay. 

Carl Nassib

Carl Nassib is the only football player who has publicly come out as gay (or bisexual) while being an active player in the NFL. The defensive end and linebacker who retired in September 2023, came out on Instagram and pledged a donation of $100,000 to the Trevor Project. 

Colton Underwood

The Bachelor star and former defensive end came out as gay in April 2021 years after appearing on both The Bachelorette and The Bachelor. Underwood has since married Democratic strategist Jordan C. Brown. 

Ryan O’Callaghan

Ryan O’Callaghan played in the NFL from 2006 to 2011. The former offensive tackle played for the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs. It wasn’t until 2017 that O’Callaghan came out as gay in an interview with Outsports, and claimed at that time that every NFL team had at least one closeted gay or bisexual player. 

Michael Sam

Michael Sam came out as gay while still in college, and was the first openly gay player to ever get drafted by an NFL team (and famously kissed his boyfriend on camera in celebration). Though he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams, he was cut before getting an official spot on their roster, and ended up playing with the Montreal Alouettes for two years, making him the first openly gay player in the history of the Canadian Football League. 

Esera Tuaolo

Nicknamed “Mr. Aloha”, Esera Tuaolo was a defensive tackle in the NFL for nine seasons, with his longest run on the Minnesota Vikings. He came out as gay on HBO’s Real Sports in 2002, three years after retiring, making him the third former NFL player to come out, after Dave Kopay and Roy Simmons.

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