Wade Davis II, a former NFL player who is now openly gay, addressed a score of Northeastern coaches and student-athletes on Thursday afternoon in the Cabot Physical Education Center, telling them he has a “burning desire to effect change.”
“I wake up every day with a passion for so many issues,” Davis said, “and I want to make sure I offer as much love and compassion to those who may not agree with my views as I would want them to offer me.”
On Friday, Davis received an honorary doctor of public service at the university’s 112th commencement ceremony at the TD Garden for his work as executive director of the You Can Play project, a nonprofit organization aimed at ending discrimination, sexism, and homophobia in sports.
His rise from a closeted gay athlete to an outspoken advocate, writer, speaker, and educator took shape in short order. “Three years ago, I was dealing with the shame of being gay,” said Davis, who retired from professional football in 2003 following a leg injury. “I didn’t even know what LGBTQ meant.”
Today, Davis spends his time crisscrossing the country to deliver his message of diversity and inclusion: During the 2012 presidential election, Davis worked as an official LGBT Surrogate for President Obama. Last month, he spoke at the 2014 NFL owners meeting.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” he said, one that has been fueled by the kids he works with at the You Can Play project. “It was the young heroes and she-roes who taught me how to see the world from their lens,” Davis said. “They taught me the importance of courage.”
In introductory remarks, Northeastern Athletic Director Peter Roby noted that “Wade shares the same values that we have with respect to treating people respectfully and seeing differences as a competitive advantage.”
“This man is amazing,” Davis said of Roby. “He made me emotional, and it’s only noon.”