Moment #16: Former NFL player Esera Tuaolo comes out as gay
Part of Outsports’ series on our 100 most important moments in gay sports history.
Football, 2002: The coming out of Esera Tuaolo, who played nine seasons in the NFL, shattered stereotypes. Here was a big (6-3, 300 pounds), tough defensive lineman who excelled in the trenches announcing he was gay. His public coming out occurred on HBOs “Real Sports” and generated a national debate about gays in sports. As we reported at the time:
Tuaolo’s appearance on “Real Sports” marks a rare event in American sports–an athlete coming out. He is also the subject of a Sunday column by Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times and will be in several upcoming profiles, including on Outsports. He is only the third NFL player to ever publicly say he’s gay, joining David Kopay in 1975 and Roy Simmons in 1992.
While Tuaolo’s story is unique in its setting–a pro sports locker room–his feelings of depression, loneliness and thoughts of suicide are universal and will resonate with many gay people.
Tuaolo’s story sparked loads of stories and columns, raising the perennial question: Can a player be out and gay? Tuaolo was not out while playing, so his story didn’t really answer that, but the dialog was revealing. Some players, notably Sterling Sharpe, said it would be impossible for a gay player to exist in a locker room and predicted physical harm. Others basically shrugged and said no big deal. Tuaolo is the last NFL player to have publicly come out. Read More…