Jeff Rohrer will become the first gay NFL player to marry a man when he ties the knot with his fiancé Joshua Ross on Sunday (November 18).
The 59-year-old retired Dallas Cowboys player came out as gay in an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday (November 14) introducing 36-year-old Ross as his partner, soon-to-be husband.
“If I had told the Dallas Cowboys in the 1980s that I was gay, I would have been cut immediately.”
— Jeff Rohrer
Rohrer, whose NFL career ended in 1989, met aesthetician Ross in a West Hollywood tequila bar three years ago. When the two get married this week in Los Angeles, Rohrer will become the first NFL player to enter a same-sex marriage.
Rohrer told The Times he was still in the closet when he met Ross in May 2015—and would likely still have been hiding his sexuality if it had not been for the life-changing encounter.
“And if not for Josh, I’d still be in there,” Rohrer said.
When did Jeff Rohrer play in the NFL?
Rohrer began playing in the NFL in 1982 as a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys.
“If I had told the Dallas Cowboys in the 1980s that I was gay, I would have been cut immediately,” he said, reflecting on the prejudice against gay people at the time. “It was a different world back then, people didn’t want to hear that.”
“So many nights I cried myself to sleep, feeling like I was the Wolfman, or Jekyll and Hyde, or Frankenstein, some kind of monster that only comes out when it’s a full moon, always living in the shadows.”
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He added: “I’m not going to change the world, but we can at least get the message out there that it’s OK and I’m proud of where I am. I’m not ashamed. I’m not the Wolfman anymore. My family and friends are 100% behind me. That kind of message can maybe move the ball forward a little bit.”
None of the previous seven NFL athletes who have come out as gay, as recorded by sports blogging network SB Nation, have done so while playing in the league.
Four others football players, including Michael Sam, played preseason games and took part in training camps, but never played an official NFL game, according to The Times.
“I think if I never would have came out, never would have said those words out to the public, I would still be currently in the NFL,” Sam said in a 2016 interview.
When did Jeff Rohrer come out as gay?
Rohrer told The Times it was not until his divorce—he has two now-teenage children from his previous marriage—that he decided to be more open about his sexuality.
“People are born gay, as I was, though being gay was just something that had no place during the course of my football life,” Rohrer said.
“But when I got divorced, I said the hell with it, I’m going to do what I’ve always wanted to do,” he continued, adding: “Then I found Josh, and began to openly live the life I was born to live.”
Ross said he was not sure whether Rohrer was gay when he first saw “this big gregarious guy,” but he realised he was when Rohrer started talking.
“What attracted me most to Jeff was his unselfishness,” Ross told the Times. “I guess that came from being a husband and a father, and always making sure his family came first.”