03/17/2014 12:39 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Learning to Love Wade Davis Style

In order to share with you the awesomeness of former NFL player Wade Davis, I must give you some backstory. I remember first seeing his name pop up on my Twitter feed while celebrating my birthday in Salt Lake City last November. I found it intriguing that in this day in time where "coming out" is such a hot topic that this man -- an athlete, a titan of one of the most physical games to be played -- was also a black gay man. (I'll have more on that a little later in this piece, but first I want to move on to the day Wade Davis and I first met.) I wanted to pick his brain, more importantly I wanted to hear his story, and I wanted to hear it from the man himself.

After exchanging a few Twitter messages and phone numbers we set up a meeting at an Upper West Side Thai restaurant called Spice. I arrived a few minutes early, grabbed a table and waited for him to show up. I didn't know what to expect or what version of him I would get. I'm sure we have all heard the occasional story of how arrogant some professional athletes can be -- but that's not the person who walked through the door of the restaurant. Wade Davis entered; dressed rather nicely with a pair of jeans; button-up white shirt, a blazer and a great pair of shoes. I stood up to greet him but he reached in and we shared a hug. We learned of each other rather quickly of our Southern roots and it became a wonderful icebreaker, talking about the differences between Louisiana and Mississippi.

When I initially reached out to Wade I wanted to primarily talk about homophobia and sports. I wanted to talk Michael Sam and Jason Collins. I wanted to talk football and if the National Football League is ready for open, honest and in the words of Wade Davis, "a homosexual athlete living freely in his truth." However, like most things, something greater came out of our conversation. I want to take you with this piece on a journey of hate to self-love and love for all people. While sitting with Wade he talked about growing up and having to hide the person he truly is inside.

In his own words: "I hated myself and to this very day it's hard for me to love myself." I wondered how could that be and Wade made it a point to tell me.

For Davis, the self-hate started in high school; that very moment he realized that he was attracted to the same sex. Wade mentioned how he took that hate he felt for himself out of the only person in his school at the time who was lively freely in his truth. It would take some years before Wade Davis the athlete would get centered and in a space where he was able to love others around him and himself. Wade explains that throughout the course of his life he has learned a lot about himself and others. I would say football was just the beginning of what would be important lessons for him. The sport taught him the importance of friendships and the meaning of unbroken bonds but it would be his work after football at the Hetrick-Martin Institute that taught him love.

While working with the LGBT youth at Hetrick-Martin, not only was Wade's eyes opened but his heart began to open also. Through his own experiences of hiding from the person he is meant to be Wade has learned to not only appreciate his life but also find a way to help others just like him. It took years for the Southern boy who tortured others to deflect people from knowing he was gay to the man he is now. He mentions how he is still little scared.

"I still live in fear sometimes to walk down the street with a man, to walk into a gay bar, because of what people might think of me," he says.

Even still he has and he is at the forefront of something great. He has helped shape the path for others like Jason Collins and Michael Sam to play in the sports they love without judgment and fear. He has helped countless youths through the organization "You Can Play" to remain playing sports despite those who say gays have no place in the locker room. He's always working to fight against homophobia in sports.

Nevertheless, Wade Davis is consistently growing and evolving. Like many of us, Wade is a gentle spirit and after talking with him I don't see the person who hated himself or the person still struggling to love himself. We can all learn a thing or two from him. Love is important, it is kind, it is sweet and can be bitter, but looking through Wade's eyes love is obtainable you just have to be willing to open your heart.