Former football player reflects on life in the NFL — and the closet

Back when Esera Tuaolo was playing in the NFL, he never imagined that one day he’d be hosting an LGBTQ-themed sports event in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. The former defensive tackle was in the closet for his entire playing career. Now, at 49, he’s finally witnessing the type of change and evolution he’s been advocating for since he came out to the world in 2002 on HBO’s news series, “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel.”

“I played nine years in the NFL as a closeted gay man,” Tuaolo told NBC News. “When I came out, I started speaking out against hate, bullying and homophobia in sports. I’m proud to represent the LGBTQ community, and it’s always been a dream of mine to foster a positive relationship with the NFL and to create something like a support group or an event where people can come and be who we are and educate others on inclusion.”

Read more on NBC OUT