Michael Irvin champions equality

Updated: July 14, 2011, 3:37 AM ET
ESPNDallas.com

Former Dallas Cowboys great Michael Irvin appears shirtless on the cover of this month's gay men's magazine Out and discusses his passion for equality issues.

[+] EnlargeMichael Irvin
Courtesy of Out MagazineMichael Irvin appears on the latest cover of Out Magazine. He tells the publication that he would support any athlete who comes out.

Irvin publicly acknowledges that the impetus for taking a stand comes from his relationship with his gay brother, Vaughn, who died of stomach cancer at age 49 in 2006. Irvin had not spoken publicly about his brother previously, according to the magazine.

"I've been wanting to talk about this for years," Irvin said. "I don't know if it's because I'm older or because I'm at peace with myself. I think everyone should be treated equally. A lot of people have called and emailed after seeing the story and talked about how they have friends in the same situation. Most of the response has been very positive."

In the article, Irvin describes how his brother's sexual orientation contributed to his own issues.

He says that he found out his brother was gay in the late 1970s, when he found Vaughn wearing women's clothing. Michael Irvin was rattled by the experience and has figured out since that it contributed to his own womanizing behavior. Working with a Dallas area bishop, T.D. Jakes, Irvin looked at the past.

"And through it all we realized maybe some of the issues I've had with so many women, just bringing women around so everybody can see, maybe that's the residual of the fear I had that if my brother is wearing ladies' clothes, am I going to be doing that? Is it genetic?" Irvin said to Out. "I'm certainly not making excuses for my bad decisions. But I had to dive inside of me to find out why am I making these decisions, and that came up."

Irvin says that his father, Walter, helped him learn a tolerant form of Christianity because the elder Irvin accepted his gay son and encouraged him to love his brother unconditionally.

He remained close to his brother, one of 16 siblings, until his death.

"He was the smartest, most charismatic man I'd ever seen in my life," Irvin said.

Irvin now believes the African-American community should support marriage equality.

"I don't see how any African-American, with any inkling of history, can say that you don't have the right to live your life how you want to live your life," he said, according to the magazine. "No one should be telling you who you should love, no one should be telling you who you should be spending the rest of your life with. When we start talking about equality, and everybody being treated equally, I don't want to know an African-American who will say everybody doesn't deserve equality."

The Hall of Fame wide receiver believes that this work matters more than his football career.

"The last thing I want is to go to God and have him ask, 'What did you do?' And I talk about winning Super Bowls and national titles," Irvin said, according to Out. "I didn't do anything to make it a better world before I left? All I got is Super Bowls? That would be scary."

Irvin would support any athlete who wants to come out.

"If anyone comes out in those top four major sports, I will absolutely support him. ... When a guy steps up and says, 'This is who I am,' I guarantee you I'll give him 100 percent support," Irvin said.

And if the player produced on the field, he would have supported a gay teammate as well. Winning was paramount.

"I believe, if a teammate had said he's gay, we would have integrated him and kept moving because of the closeness," Irvin said, according to the magazine.

He believes the team that won three Super Bowls could have integrated an openly gay teammate as well as any team.

"We had a bunch of different characters on that team," Irvin said. "Deion [Sanders] and Emmitt [Smith]. I believe that team would have handled it well."