“I’m out because I no longer, in good conscience, choose to ignore the unabashed homophobia that is so cavalierly tolerated within the world of sports. I’m out, because the silence of a closeted gay man only serves to give his implicit approval to bigotry. I’m out, because I refuse to continue hiding from the truth that an openly gay man has as much right as a straight man to play sports or report on them.

… “The gay community is the one minority that is still very much fair game for overt displays of prejudice in the world of sports. While inroads toward achieving equality are slowly being made in the real world, a gay man is still expected to bear the burden of shame in the sports world.”

And so it is in the NFL. But there are signs that the NFL is beginning to change. As part of last month’s 10th annual rookie symposium — an event aimed at preparing draft choices for on and off field life — the NFL included an openly gay speaker for the first time in its diversity training program. Esera Tuaolo, a retired NFL defensive lineman, discussed issues of homophobia in football and sports with the 255 recently drafted rookies.

Outsports’ Cyd Zeigler Jr. has extended comments from Tuaolo regarding his discussion, and the importance of simply being included for the symposium:

“‘I’m not here to change you,’ [Tuaolo] told the rookies. ‘I’m not here to convert you. I’m here to educate you on the issues of homophobia in football and sports.’

Esera shared some of his personal experiences as a gay man in the NFL, some of the hurtful words he heard used in locker rooms, hiding all of the nine years he was a player.

‘I think a lot of guys were shocked at what [Tuaolo] had to tolerate at times,’ [NFL Vice President of Player and Employee Development Mike] Haynes told ESPN.

… While a culture of homophobia is still perceived to reign in football, as with most sports, Tuaolo said the NFL’s attitude toward homosexuality is changing:

‘They didn’t have to include me in this. But, they did. They’re working on it. They are moving forward. Things just aren’t going to happen overnight. I felt really proud of myself. I feel really good. It was cool to go back as a gay man to where I used to play.’

Tuaolo is already looking forward to being a part of next year’s rookie symposium. He also would like to branch out and start visiting the teams, talking to the veterans, the coaches – everyone.

‘There’s still a lot of work to do,’ Tuaolo said, ‘but our foot is in the door and they’re talking about it. For some people that’s not enough; but for me it is – for now.'”


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