Avery Saffold is one of the many athletic talents that for generations have come from Chicago’s South Side and harvested by universities and colleges looking for young men with his skill. Growing up in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood, he stood out at Mount Carmel High School, a private, all-boys school, which he chose for its outstanding athletics and academic reputation in Chicago.
"Sports were a huge part of my life, I loved playing,” said Saffold, 23. Mount Carmel was a very rigorous school in terms of football and academics. With my life being so surrounded by athletics, I feel that there was a deterrence to being myself and maybe exploring myself as much as I wanted to or could have."
In 2016, Saffold entered Amherst College, a small private liberal arts college with a football team that competes in the Ivy League. Playing defensive back, he was one of the Mammoths' leaders and ascended to become a two-time captain and All-Conference player.
But being himself meant Saffold, who was twice-voted team captain and confident in his defensive prowess on the gridiron, would have to tackle a mammoth truth about himself with family, friends, coaches, and teammates. He was gay, and it had to come out.
Avery faced the conundrum that most LGBTQ athletes struggle with of how to communicate their truths to family, friends, associates, and the world. "I guess it was more of an internal battle with me wanting to be the best person that I could be,” he said, “and, knowing that to do that, I had to give everybody else and give myself who I actually am."
In 2019, Avery and a few friends and teammates traveled to Europe for a summer vacation. He first confided in two of his friends about his sexuality. Now it was time to share with teammates.
The possibility of losing respect from his teammates on the gridiron delayed his decision to come out for the Saffold. He wrestled with telling the rest of the team upon returning from his trip. "I was a high-achieving athlete and best player on the field,” he remembered. “I went back and forth. Should I do this? Am I going to be captain next year? Are my teammates going to listen to me? It all worked out.
"I guess it was more of an internal battle with me wanting to be the best person that I could be. And, knowing that, I had to give everybody else and give myself who I actually am," Saffold continued.
He told his mother, family, friends, and teammates that he was gay — and it was better than he anticipated. Saffold was concerned with losing the respect of his teammates. Instead, they voted him as the team's captain for a second-consecutive season. In four seasons (2016-19) at Amherst, Saffold recorded 84 total tackles, 15 pass breakups, 5 interceptions, 2 blocked kicks, and 530 kick return yards.
Avery Saffold will be one of the several LGBTQ+ athletes paying tribute to Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib at the 11th edition of the NFL Honors program on Thursday, Feb. 10 at 9 PM ET in Los Angeles. Nassib, 28, came out as the first openly gay active NFL in June of 2021 (in 2014, Michael Sam of the then-St, Louis Rams was the first openly gay player to be drafted). The NFL chose to honor Nassib for his trailblazing courage and work within the LGBTQ+ community.
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Saffold wanted to be a part of the program honoring Nassib in hopes of inspiring the next person who might be dealing with issues around their sexual orientation and to help them not be afraid.
He says he stands with Nassib, but their stories had differing foundations. "Carl Nassib is right. I'm sure he has a different upbringing than I did. Just being able to represent us [Black people] in the fullest was my main impetus for wanting to do the interview and share my story," Saffold said. "I wanted to be that story that maybe somebody's father who doesn't really know how to go about dealing with their child being gay and in sports will see me and be okay."
Today, Avery Saffold works as an Institutional Sales Assistant at AB Bernstein, a New York City-based asset management company. His goal is to become a financial advisor, and he believes financial health is very important.
"Creating and sustaining black wealth is one of my goals,” Saffold noted. “Maybe with athletes, but even on the micro-level. Our health is our wealth. Our financial health is very important. I would love to do more for many different communities."