When former NFL player Jeff Rohrer married West Hollywood skin-care expert and aesthetician Joshua Ross in a ceremony at LA’s Wattles Mansion in November of 2018, it was not just a milestone in his own life – it was also a major step forward for LGBTQ acceptance, and one that the Los Angeles Blade recognized last Thursday by presenting him with the Game Changer Award at the third annual Blade Best of LGBTQ LA presentation held at Rocco’s Tavern.
Rohrer, who grew up in Inglewood, was 59 at the time of his wedding to Ross. He had remained closeted throughout his stint as a player for the Dallas Cowboys, which began with his recruitment in 1982. He told the New York Times in an interview before his marriage, “If I had told the Dallas Cowboys in the 1980s that I was gay, I would have been cut immediately. It was a different world back then, people didn’t want to hear that.”
It wasn’t until he met Ross and the two began dating, in 2015, that he decided to come out publicly. He was, at that time, the 7th known NFL player, past or present, to publicly identify as gay – but with his wedding, he became the very first to enter into a same-sex marriage.
Needless to say, it was big news in the sports world; but while there was a predictably negative response from some football fans, Rohrer told the Times, “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.”
The Game Changer Award, presented to an individual who has made breakthroughs in LGBTQ visibility, was an acknowledgement of Rohrer’s positive influence as a pioneer in breaking down the long-standing barriers and stigmas against LGBTQ people in the world of professional sports; it was also a reminder of how community bonds extend into every facet of the larger world.
The Blade was joined in giving the award by event sponsor Wheels, the innovative West Hollywood electric bike company. Wheels founder Josh Viner began the presentation with comments in which he extolled the city as an incubator of Game Changing technologies; he also unveiled a model R
ainbow fleet bike, emblazoned with the proud words “Born in WeHo.”
Introducing Rohrer was Charley Walters, Founder and Producer of Gold Meets Golden, an event which brings together celebrities from the worlds of Hollywood and professional athletics to generate awareness and support for sports-related causes. He praised the former Dallas Cowboys player’s bravery, saying that ever since the former athlete’s late in life decision to come out, “he has made a huge impact for so many people and really blazed the way.”
Rohrer then took the stage, accompanied by enthusiastic cheers and applause from the crowd. He acknowledged Ross, who was in the audience, and launched into a gracious acceptance speech.
“Josh and I got married about a year ago, and it caused a media firestorm,” he said. “It was unexpected, but we are so proud to be a part of being a game changer for our community. It’s affected a lot of people – there’s a lot of folks like me, that were in the closet for most of our life… and you find somebody you love.”
He went on to add, “The NFL has been so supportive of our community, and we handed them kind of a little blindside with being the first man-and-man same-sex marriage for the NFL – but somebody had to do it, and it was us, and we’re proud to be that person. Know that the NFL has got your back, they’re actually good people, and they’re going to support our community.”
Rohrer was not the first honoree of the evening to invoke the spirit of community; it was a keynote of the evening, a theme which emerged again and again in an award ceremony that seemed to elevate the community itself as it gathered together to reward its best and brightest.
In the words of LA Blade editor Troy Masters, “That’s the whole point of Los Angeles Blade’s Best of LGBTQ Awards.”