June 7, 2012 -- A decade ago, Wade Davis was a cornerback struggling to make a National Football League roster. He was also in the closet.
"Honestly, I wasn't strong enough as a person," Davis said, explaining why he only came out as gay seven years after leaving football, in an interview with OutSports.com this week.
Since leaving the NFL, where he was a defensive back for the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, Davis, 34, has found a new calling: helping LGBT youth deal with the same pressures he experienced as a player.
Now an assistant director of job readiness at New York City's Hetrick-Martin Institute, which provides services such as GED preparation, HIV education and mental health support, Davis said his new job is an opportunity to inspire "other Wade Davis's out there to live in their own truth."
Davis said he feared revealing his homosexuality would sink his career.
On the field, he said, his only focus was football, but when practices and games ended, his identity struggle became "real again." But Davis said he consistently prioritized protecting his career over resolving that struggle.
Asked if he regretted waiting as long as he did to come out, Davis said, "Considering the work I'm doing now, yes. But five or six years ago, no."
Former teammate Jevon Kearse told the Los Angeles Times that he would have accepted Davis's homosexuality had Davis told him about it.
"I know there have been a lot more than just Wade," Kearse said. "It's just becoming more acceptable, which is a good thing so they can come out and not feel secluded."
While he believes the NFL's culture has become more tolerant of gay people, Davis said it may still be very difficult for an active player to come out today. The decision is intensely personal, he said, and some gay players may lack the support system he eventually found with his partner Steven, with whom he lives in New York's Upper East Side.
"There's been some growth, and some conversations between the players, the owners and the fans," Davis said. "As long as these conversations are happening, when a player does come out it won't be as much of a shock."
Davis's story may have laid the groundwork for current athletes to come out of the closet, OutSports.com editor Jim Bzinski said, but the major sports leagues still have "a way to go."
However, says Bzinski, "Homophobia is no longer cool in sports. When people utter gay slurs, they'll get fined now. The landscape is changing."