Former NFL player Wade Davis is the executive director of the You Can Play Project, which works to end homophobia in sports. Wednesday night, Davis has a guest appearance on episode six of "American Crime." I caught up with him to talk about feminism, sexual fluidity and his thoughts about the show.
Barnes: What is your role on "American Crime" tonight?
Davis: I play a journalist interviewing the kid who is accused of rape, Eric Tanner [played by Joey Polari]. I interview Eric, and it is an interesting thing where I am trying to get the kid to understand [that] what he's done coming out is courageous -- and see if he can actually understand what it means to be an openly gay player in sports. He's going to use a word in the scene that will mark the first time that word has been said on ABC.
Barnes: You actively identify as a feminist. What do you think about the ways in which "American Crime" explores masculinity as it applies to feminism?
Davis: One of the beautiful things about "American Crime" is that it gets down in the muck, as James Baldwin would say. As a feminist, I was just thinking that you have to first find the courage and strength to speak up as a survivor, and then use your body again to prove to a public that doesn't want to believe that [this happened]. Then the public wants to examine what you were doing, what you were wearing, what you were drinking, and if you were even there. These are questions are asked of the survivor and the perpetrator gets to basically watch and wait and figure out how can he or she can excuse themselves. As [Eric Tanner] said in episode five, "He was asking for it." It reminded me of what survivors have to go through, and how the system is set up for them not to be believed.
Barnes: How do you think compassion for Eric's situation could influence how viewers may see him as someone who has been accused of rape?
Davis: Viewers are having to wrestle with this idea of "can men be victims of sexual assault?" I think the viewers are having a harder time finding sympathy for [Taylor Blaine]. When you're talking about [the alleged assault] being at a party and there's alcohol, everyone has added all these factors to excuse themselves from how they feel about it. We would actually prefer to sympathize with the perpetrator than the victim, because that pain is too much for us to bear. We take the side of the accused because we can probably imagine how that would feel, especially men.
Barnes: It's been interesting watching Twitter react and turn on Taylor so fast. As soon as those text messages came out, everything changed. Last week, I wrote my column on the fact that Taylor has never actually said that he's gay.
Davis: What "American Crime" is doing is showing the complexity of being gay from multiple sides. As someone who consulted on the show, I think that was one of my biggest [contributions]. I tried to explain to the writers the complexity of understanding sexual identity. When I was in 10th grade and had the first inklings that I was gay, I did things because I wasn't sure. You don't know what it means, and you're still at a time where your sexuality feels more fluid. I was able to still have sex with a woman and enjoy it even though I knew I was having feelings for a guy. I didn't know if I was [bisexual] and I didn't want to admit that I was gay. People think either you're straight or you're gay, but that's not how sexuality works.
Barnes: I think the imposition of rigidity we see onto Taylor is actually in reaction to Eric saying that he's gay. Being an LGBT athlete, this must hit home for you. How does his team react to the news?
Davis: It's stereotypical and complex at the same time. What I mean by stereotypical is that there are going to be people who are uncomfortable, and there are going to be people who think Eric is still just one of the guys. In that way, I do think that inviting people in to understand your sexuality will always be a bit stereotypical. There is an anger that people have toward you because they feel like you have been lying to them, but what they fail to understand is the conditions haven't been set up for you to believe that anyone could accept you. It's much easier for us to find fault in others than to look inside.
Catch new episodes of "American Crime" on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.
Katie Barnes is a digital media associate at ESPN. Follow them on Twitter at Katie_Barnes3.