Though Missouri defensive end Michael Sam will become the NFL’s first openly gay player, he’ll be far from the first NFL player who happens to be gay.
One long-time defensive lineman who kept his secret throughout his NFL career said he admire’s Sam’s willingness to come out, but never could have done it when he played.
Former Vikings defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo (who also played for the Packers, Jaguars, Falcons and Panthers) told Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that the time was right for Sam.
“We’re living in different times,” Tuaolo said. “It was 20 years ago when I came into the league, and it was not an environment where I could come out. The homophobia and the words and language back then was absolutely ridiculous, and nobody would be held accountable for it. In the last 10 years, it hasn’t been like that. Any time now, when a player or coach lashes out, they are held accountable for their words. If there’s a time that a player should come out, this is the time.”
Tuaolo said the hardest part of not revealing himself during his playing days was being forced to hide his relationship, or “things my straight friends on the team took for granted.”
But he thinks with increasing awareness, Sam is entering the league at a time when acceptance will be easier to come by.
“For the last decade, it’s been a hot topic in politics,” Tuaolo said. “It’s been a hot topic in the sports world. People are tired of hate, they are tired of another group disrespecting or degrading another group. And there has been a lot more education out there.
“It’s the same with women’s rights. And then civil rights. There’s only so much you can hate on an individual before you start judging with your heart.”
Of course, reading the language in the recent Dolphins report is enough to know that it’s not a perfect world. But it’s more possible now for Sam to break down the barrier.