ROHNERT PARK - The Cooperage, a Sonoma State campus event room, was filled Tuesday night, 400 strong, and Wade Davis brought all of them to silence when he told them what the St. Louis Rams scout said.
"Is Wade a ladies man?" the scout asked a coach from Weber State at the Ogden, Utah, college. Davis was a cornerback at the school. The 2000 NFL draft was coming up.
"What I heard was, 'Is Wade gay?'" Davis said. "My heart sank."
How could have that scout known? What could Davis do about it? This is the NFL. It's tough enough to be tough enough already in the league, without adding an extra anvil on his back. So Davis went into heavy macho cover for the scouts.
"The (Tennessee) Titans signed me as a free agent," said Davis, 36. "I made it, I thought to myself! I'm a good actor! They bought it. Then I'm in the locker room in training camp with Jevon Kearse and Steve McNair and I'm digging it. Then a veteran comes up to me and says, 'Don't talk to that guy. He's bisexual.'
"I'm thinking to myself, 'Why did he tell me that?'"
Did that veteran notice something? The lie Davis was living left him paranoid. It required a lot of work. It led to a lot of anxious moments. Was that the right thing to say? Was that the right thing to do? Was his response convincing?
Then came his first check from the Titans. It was for $9,000. This was going to erase all doubts.
"I took all that money one night and made it rain cash at a strip club," Davis said.
As if that was going to wash away all the anxiety. Davis popped a hamstring that Titans training camp, was released and played for the Barcelona Dragons the next summer in NFL Europe. He was in Seattle's training camp the next year, wrecked his knee and played for the Berlin Thunder the next summer in NFL Europe. Davis made it to NFL training camps two more times, with the Titans in 2002 and the Redskins in 2003. Each time he was released. Each time his left knee continued to shred so that by the time Washington let him go, that knee looked like someone took a hammer to it.
"The last time I had a day without pain was when I was a sophomore in high school," Davis said.
Davis never played a down in a regular-season NFL game, but that didn't prevent the SSU students from attending. He made it to four NFL training camps. He played two seasons in NFL Europe. He was a skilled football player. He wasn't a joke.
And he was gay.
A gay football player, yes, that set the hook deep into his audience, curiosity being a bait hard to refuse. With the national conversation being filled more and more with dialogue on an individual's right to freely choose his or her companion, Davis is a man for such a moment.
Thursday night, Davis was scheduled to speak to athletes at the University of Arizona. Two weeks ago, he spoke at Rutgers, to the school's administrators, coaches and athletes. Since he publicly declared his sexuality in June 2012, Davis estimates he has given 100 speeches to colleges, high schools and interest groups.