Documentary looks at the double-life of a closeted gay pro football player

The world of sports has lagged behind many other professional fields in addressing equality for LGBT people. Homophobia in sports has been given increasing attention over the past few years and is particularly getting worldwide attention due to the Sochi Winter Olympics and Russia's homophobic legislation.

But imagine what it was like for athletes decades ago, when the fight for gay rights was only part of a nascent movement.

The NFL Network documentary series A Football Life takes a look at the story of tight end Jerry Smith of the Washington Redskins who struggled to keep his true sexual identity under wraps, even after he had an brief fling with a teammate, running back David Kopay.

Smith played for the Washington Redskins from 1965 to 1977 while Kopay played for the team from 1969 to 1970.

Fortunately, Smith found a fierce and protective ally in Redskins coach Vince Lombardi. Lombardi refused to tolerate any homophobic behaviour towards Smith—Lombardi's own brother was gay.

Smith was the first former professional athlete to die of AIDS on October 15, 1986. He never publicly came out of the closet, but he did finally open up to a reporter who promised anonymity, telling her that he had no one to talk to about it.

Kopay did come out publicly in an article and was blacklisted for doing so. He went into detail about his experience in his 1977 autobiography The David Kopay Story: An Extraordinary Self-Revelation. Kopay's coming out was a pivotal moment in LGBT awareness in sports history.

Several segments of the documentary can be viewed online.

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