Husky legend and gay icon David Kopay is at peace and at home (2023)

David Kopay is a study of contradictions. He retained his joking looks and muscular physique, reminders of the imposing athlete he once was. They belie his age, his arthritis and the many surgeries he's had in recent years: a couple of hip replacements, right knee, right shoulder. And he's still a socialite, even an icon, but only very reservedly. Living alone in an elegant, understated house on a quiet street on Queen Anne Hill, his days are filled with the stillness of time. The wall of privacy you built around yourself in the fall of your life gives you the solitude you so clearly long for. He feels better alone.

If Kopay, 64, seems to have come to terms with these contradictions, it may be because they pale in comparison to who he has lived with for so long. This is a man known for his tough playing style as an All-American running back at the University of Washington in the early 1960s, winning nine seasons in the National Football League with determination and determination. This is also a man who, in 1975, became the first professional athlete in a major team sport (he retired from the NFL in 1972) to publicly come out as gay, an act of openness that turned the manliest of sports into his head. , which shakes your definitions of courage and perseverance.

Now Kopay is doing what he can to make sure UW students don't have to live through the contradiction he endured. Last September, he announced that he would be donating $1 million to the university's Q Center, a resource and support center for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students and faculty. He believes this is one of the most important endeavors he will ever undertake. Three months later, she left Southern California and the life she'd built for three decades and moved back to Seattle, closer to a university she sometimes felt quite distant from.

"I wanted to do something meaningful, leave something behind that would benefit people whose experiences and feelings I shared and can understand," he says. “I wish there was something like the Q Center when I was a student. This city, the university, everything is so different from when I was a student here. It was wonderful to see how the social climate has changed.”


kOpay, 66, grew up in Southern California in an all-Catholic family. He was the second of four children, altar boy. Even as a child, he understood that his attraction to his male friends was somehow different. An immense sense of guilt, a result of his strict Catholic upbringing, prompted him to enter a minor seminary as a teenager with hopes of becoming a priest and, as he puts it, "healing himself". But there his feelings only deepened and he felt a deep attraction to his seminarians. He resorted to prayer to get rid of his guilt. "But for all my prayers and regrets," Kopay said in a 2005 speech, "I have had no relief or success in dealing with my deep secret."

Husky legend and gay icon David Kopay is at peace and at home (1)Kopay transferred to Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, where he became an accomplished football player. Recruiting heavily, he decided to attend Marquette University, a Jesuit school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after his childhood favorite school, Notre Dame, failed to offer him a scholarship. When Marquette retired his football program the following year, he transferred to UW, where his older brother Tony was on the team.

Kopay joined the Theta Chi Fraternity when he arrived at UW, and it was there that he met the man he now calls the love of his life. But the very idea of ​​being gay was still foreign to him at the time. This was in the early 1960s, and coming out gay would have marked you as an outsider. The idea frightened and disgusted him. After all, he was a footballer.

This remained his mindset throughout his time at UW, even when he and his frat brother slept together on the porch, their dates usually took place after they both stopped dating. He had become so completely withdrawn, isolated by his fear and insecurity, that he never attempted to reach out to others in his position, let alone the city's gay enclaves. It would be more than a decade before he began to come to terms with his sexuality.

As his personal life grew more complicated and secretive, Kopay also struggled on the soccer field and failed to receive a college letter during his freshman year. He finally broke through in his senior season, leading the team averaging 48 minutes per game. He was named an All-American and led the Huskies to the 1964 Rose Bowl. It should have been a happy time for Kopay, but he was still weighed down by the burden of his secret.


Husky legend and gay icon David Kopay is at peace and at home (2)

Kopay (left) drives to a 1962 game at Husky Stadium with coach Jim Owens and a teammate.

YYears later, when he finally came out as gay, some former teammates were amazed at his ability to function under so much inner stress. "It must have been a challenge for him to see the world through his eyes," said Rick Redman, 66, a former UW teammate. "I'm happy for him, for the way he behaved and how he managed to behave in the conditions he was faced with. I'm proud to call him a teammate." In the years that followed, Kopay continued to wear a mask of straight masculinity, marrying (and later divorcing) and feigning an interest in pursuing women in hopes of resolving his inner struggle Suppress and carry on living your lie.

"I never thought I was a gay man because I just wasn't 'one of them,'" says Kopay. “Just talking about it amplifies almost all of the bullshit that society uses to identify gay people. I didn't have the knowledge or the strength to come out at the time, and even after I came out, it nearly consumed me many, many times, sending me into a deep, deep depression. I've appreciated the thousands of letters I've received from people telling their own stories, but sometimes even that wasn't enough."

Coming out three years after retiring from football, Kopay had no intention of becoming a gay rights advocate. Nine years in the NFL shaped Kopay's public image as a badass lunch character. Hardworking and highly talented, he was a perfect fit for what was then the NFL, a sport based on clashes and brutality where introspection and self-confidence were unwelcome visitors. Even today, the league is a world where toughness is valued and where weakness, defined in its narrow parameters, cannot be tolerated. In the 33 years since Kopay came out as gay, no active professional soccer player has followed him.

After reading a series about gay athletes in the defunct Washington Star, the hypocrisy just got too much. The stories used anonymous sources, and Kopay felt that if an accurate description of gayness in professional sports was to be written, it needed a face. That's what he called the reporter Lynn Rosellini (daughter of former Washington Gov. Albert Rosellini, '32, '33) who wrote the series. He followed this interview through co-writingThe story of David Kopay, his seminal autobiography that made him a sought-after speaker and activist for gay rights.

"I really had no idea how big this was going to be," says Kopay, "or how long I would have to endure all this animosity. This hostility and self-loathing that has been instilled in me since my earliest years by nuns and priests, my parents and society in general. When I first spoke, there were no positive images of gay people anywhere. Not that I really identified as gay at the time, but of course deep down, I really did."

However, Kopay's activism comes as no surprise to those who know him well. "It's in his nature to be open about the things that are important to him," says Joe Stewart, a Los Angeles-based production designer and close friend of Kopay. "He's a very intense person and when he decides to do something, he's very committed. He'll see things through. He's an honest person and is never afraid to stand up for the cause he believes in."


Husky legend and gay icon David Kopay is at peace and at home (3)

Kopay installed replicas of the famous UW Sylvan Theater pillars in his backyard.

CWhatever peace of mind Kopay may have gained through his act of bravery, it came at a great cost. He still loves football and had high hopes for a coaching career after retiring from the NFL. His announcement blew her mind: he was practically kicked out of the sport.

It also rocked his parents and siblings, who struggled to come to terms with Kopay's new identity. Her mother, Marguerite, who is 94 and in poor health, now understands her decision to come out, Kopay says. Your relationship is on solid ground. Kopay's father, Anton, who died in 1990, was never entirely satisfied with his son's homosexuality. And politics alienated Kopay from his younger brother and sister, most notably his vote for George W. Bush in the 2004 election. However, he welcomes his renewed relationship with Tony, who served as a protector and mentor in his youth. The two talk often and visit each other regularly.

"David and I had our differences," says Tony Kopay. "Especially my differences. I invited him to Christmas a few years ago and we've been on good terms ever since. Time flies and time heals all wounds. I don't want to remember all the other times."

Kopay's donation is by far the largest the Q Center has ever received, and its future impact is difficult to quantify. "It's incredibly meaningful," said Jennifer Self, director of the Q Center, in 2005. "It allows us to raise more funds because it shows others that if a student believes in the Center and its mission, that's enough. to leave us $1 million that's an effort worth supporting.” George Zeno, the university's executive director for student life, says he's talked informally with Kopay for several years about joining the university engage. They came up with the idea of ​​a Q Center scholarship after Kopay read a story about a gay UW student who was homeless. Zeno says the Kopay donation will be used primarily for relief efforts and scholarships.

"I wanted to address the issues that some college students are having on campus," says Zeno. "In my conversations with him, he told me about his struggles with his identity while he was at UW as a football player and in a macho fraternity." Kopay was eager to help as soon as possible, and last year he provided the center a $10,000 scholarship check, Zeno says.

It took me a long time to accept myself for who I really am.

David Kopay

For Kopay, the donation was no small gesture. His pro football career ended long before the big money days of the NFL. His later work (he's recently retired from Linoleum City, a Los Angeles-area flooring company that supplies a Hollywood client) left him comfortable but not super-rich. The $1 million donation is nearly half of his net worth. Kopay says he felt a tremendous pull, a desire to provide resources, that he never had as a student. He's not sure how, but he's hoping to get more involved with the center and find other ways to help the university. He is interested in supporting research into Alzheimer's disease, a condition that runs in families.

Kopay's time at UW was marked by much public success and private anguish, and it's not surprising that it took him a long time to sort out his feelings about the place. In recent years, he says, he has come to appreciate the university more and more because it put him on the path he would eventually take. That realization brought him back more than anything, he says. Last September, during halftime of the Huskies' game against Boise State, Kopay was recognized as a husky legend. The crowd roared as he crossed the field, and the moment echoed with him. He was one of them.

"For a long time I was disgusted with what it was," says Kopay. "It took me a long, long time to accept myself for who I really am. And then having to fight for others to understand and accept that we all have the same rights and responsibilities in this society. I hope I can at least make a difference so that other people in my position have the freedom to be who they are and live the life they want."

Jon Naito is a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer where he works at the city bureau. He previously covered sports for P-I and the Tacoma News Tribune.

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