Former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jeff Rohrer will become the first openly gay NFL player to enter a same-sex marriage when he marries his partner on Sunday.
"If I had told the Dallas Cowboys in the 1980s that I was gay, I would have been cut immediately," the 59-year-old told The New York Times. "It was a different world back then, people didn't want to hear that."
The footballer-turned-commercial producer will say "I do" with celebrity aesthetician Joshua Ross in California this weekend after dating for more than two years. Rohrer's first marriage, from which he has two teenage children, ended in divorce.
He said while the general reaction to his engagement was one of glee, a few people were shocked.
"I've given at least five people heart attacks with this news," he said. "But for the most part, many of my closest friends, including some of my former teammates with the Cowboys, could not have been more happy and supportive."
Coached by Tom Landry, Rohrer played 83 games for the Cowboys after being drafted in the second round of the 1982 draft out of Yale. His teammates included Tony Dorsett, Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Randy White.
He grew up in Inglewood, California, where he said he kept his sexual orientation a secret. "Living with my family in that (Southern California) community, it was not acceptable," Rohrer said in an interview with Outsports. "That was not part of the plan, and it wasn't going to happen. When I went to Yale, it was the same thing there. And then I got drafted by the Cowboys. What am I going to do, come out then?"
Rohrer described what it was like living with his secret despite spending his life with people he still loves very much.
“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,” he said.
”Football is a gladiator sport. It’s very, very physical, very tough. At least at this point in our society, toughness is not associated with the gay community. It’s not a natural fit to a lot of people," he said.
But after meeting Ross in 2015 and coming out publicly through the media, he called the support he's received from his friends and family "ridiculous."
"The kindness of my friends and my family and my teammates," he said, "It' just been f—ing ridiculous and how nice they have been, and how supportive. And how they just don't care about any of that. They just love me, they always have. Nothing's changed. Nothing's changed."
He and Ross have documented their happiness via their Instagram account, Joshua & Jeffrey.
"My experience is that people are born gay, and anyone who wants to dispute that I'd be happy to have a conversation with them, including Mike Pence," Rohrer said to Outsports. "I'd love to sit down with him."
While Rohrer will be the first openly gay NFL player in a same-sex marriage, he is not the first openly gay NFL player. Michael Sam became the first openly gay player selected in the NFL draft in 2014, after announcing in February of that year that he was gay. The St. Louis Rams chose him in the seventh round of the draft, but released him before he played a regular season game.