Jun 15, 2022 - Sports

The first openly gay football player was a Detroit Lion

Black and white image of Detroit Lions halfback Dave Kopay pictured in 1968 NFL season.
David Kopay shedding a tackle on Oct 27, 1968 against the 49ers. Photos courtesy of the Detroit Lions

👋 Hey, it's Sam. Did you know the first NFL player to come out as gay spent the 1968 season in Detroit?

Driving the news: I didn't, but learned about David Kopay during a Detroit Historic Pride walking tour with former city employee Michael Boettcher.

  • The gritty fullback played for the 49ers, Lions, Saints, Packers, Raiders and Washington. He took the field with stars like Archie Manning and was coached by Vince Lombardi.

Why it matters: Kopay credits Lions teammate Alex Karras with saving his life while he struggled with his sexuality inside an NFL locker room early in his career.

  • "He supported me as a friend. Alex wasn't gay of course, but he was a wonderful, intelligent, smart man," Kopay told the Austin Chronicle in 2013. "Alex's support, it meant everything to me."

Zoom in: Kopay's book, The David Kopay Story, documents his life as a gay man who played nine years in the NFL. It became a New York Times bestseller in 1977.

Dave Kopay (top left) is pictured among his 1968 Detroit Lions teammates. Photo: Detroit Lions
Dave Kopay (second from top left) is pictured among his 1968 Detroit Lions teammates.
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