“I had worked my entire life to arrive at the greatest stage in my field! I should have felt amazing… but I was exhausted. I had been performing for everyone the entire way there,” recalled activist, writer, educator, former NFL athlete and keynote speaker, Wade Davis.
Becoming the first Diversity and Inclusion consultant for the NFL, Davis came to UConn’s Student Union theatre Tuesday night to recall and discuss events and experiences in his life rising through the ranks as a gay athlete, to get students to really reflect on themselves, their actions and the actions of others. Davis explored in serious and comfortable detail about the crucial aspects of our nation’s culture that made his experience uniquely difficult and how he turned that burden into positive change.
Performing was a key topic of Davis’ talk and how it relates to self-image and the ego. Dissecting the language of learned behaviors, Davis encouraged the audience to do the same. For example, when people say that you act like your father or mother. He said how acting, not being but performing, can be dangerous. He elaborated that we all perform in our day-to-day lives for different reasons that are specific to us as people.
Sporting a T-shirt that read “I met god and she’s black” Davis’ mission was to get students to realize the social climates of the LGBTQ community, race, gender and sports.
“Sports taught me at an early age that as a man, I must value power, dominance and control. But at the same time, I still loved watching soap operas with my mom when I was little. “He spoke of how sports are correlated with this performance that people experience when interacting with others. The way we dress, speak and act is all really a performance to portray how we want to be seen, and sports are just a polarization of that.
“It was interesting to hear the social climates that professional athletes are in today; the fact that many gay football players are open to their team but not to the public media due to repercussions they fear,” commented fourth-semester Chemical Engineering major, Albert Tulli. “I’m currently taking a women and gender studies course and we talk about much of the same stuff; how gender, race, sex, all intersect and interact but those interactions in professional sports was something that I never thought about,”
Davis was incredibly casual and interactive, often encouraging audience members to represent themselves about their personal experiences. One of these talking points was the notion of loving yourself and where that comes from. Many in the audience admitted that they were never taught that or how to do that by their parents. Unmoved by this truth, Davis gave the students confidence that building a daily practice of loving yourself is the key to being able to completely loving others, and breaking down barriers that keep people from being themselves.
Davis also emphasized the importance of language in our day-to-day lives and on social media. He had a live counter on screen with data of word usage on different scales of time looking at the use of the words ‘faggot,’ ‘dyke,’ and ‘no homo’ on Twitter. Although on a weekly basis, ‘faggot’ is used over 30,000 times, over the course of 2012-2017, the use of these words on social media had declined, but not to a point of satisfaction to Davis.
“Your parents don’t use Twitter, your grandparents don’t use Twitter, we use Twitter. These numbers come from us, which means, we all got work to do. Even if you don’t use these words or you say you are a good person, when you hear them and do nothing to stop it, you are complicit in the same act.”
“The talk was really enlightening and opened my eyes to a lot of new perspectives on sexist language,” reflected 6th semester economics major, Chris Keaton. As a fraternity member, these groups are often guilty of championing hyper masculinity, it’s important to realize, to keep in check and break that boundary.”
After a long Q and A with the audience, Davis encouraged the students to inform themselves and to keep an active mind about the subject on the day to day. One way he suggested to help with this is to be patient and persistent with the people who perpetuate these problems, whether they realize it as an issue or not. That change comes from collective thoughts of people. Although straight white men are often targeted as being the ones who perpetuate socially damaging habits and thinking, Davis concluded, “We ALL have work to do.”