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Former Packer Esera Tuaolo named to Outsports Power 100

Tuaolo played 20 games over two seasons for Green Bay to start his NFL career.

Buffalo Bills v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Acme Packing Company’s sister site Outsports, which covers LGBTQ athletes, fans and allies, released Outsports Power 100 in honor of Pride Month. Outsports Power 100 was designed to acknowledge the most influential LGBTQ people in sports.

Ranked 63rd on the list is Esera Tuaolo, an out former defensive lineman who played for the Green Bay Packers in 1991 and 1992. Here’s what Outsports had to say about Tuaolo:

Esera Tuaolo played 10 seasons in the NFL, appearing in the Super Bowl with the Atlanta Falcons, before publicly coming out as gay in 2002, making him one of the most accomplished out gay football players ever. He’s stayed close to the game since retirement, hosting an annual Super Bowl party and speaking to rookies about LGBTQ inclusion. But for all of Tuaolo’s talents — he’s also a singer and performer — his candor stands out the most. “It took me a while to realize I played in the NFL. How many athletes or football players get to do that?” he said this year. “I played nine years, and the average is three. I wasn’t a bench-warmer. I played. I can now look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Hey, I was a good player.’ But it took a while, man.” — Alex Reimer

APC’s own Kris Burke wrote about Tuaolo last June after the Las Vegas Raiders’ Carl Nassib came out.

Tuaolo’s coming out sparked a debate that has yet to be settled almost 20 years later: How will a gay player be accepted in the NFL? Shortly after Tuaolo’s announcement, his former Packers teammate Sterling Sharpe said that gay men would have trouble finding acceptance in the locker room.

“He would have been eaten alive and he would have been hated for it,” Sharpe said in a 2002 episode of HBO’s Real Sports, and he wasn’t alone in sharing those sentiments.

It was that mindset that led Tuaolo to become, in his words, “an actor.” He heard all the locker room banter in both college and the NFL that was anti-gay, and he knew what revealing his true self would mean to those players. As Tuaolo outlines in his book Alone in the Trenches: My Life as Gay Man in the NFL, his biggest fear was that while his was still playing, someone would expose his secret to the world before he was ready to share it. That fear nearly drove him to suicide, he wrote.

That fear of being exposed is a violation of privacy that terrifies many members of the LGBTQ+ community even today and Tuaolo was living through this, as were others, when many Americans still would not accept homosexuality as legitimate.

Tuaolo overcame those demons after coming out and showing his true self, and he has gone on to become a strong advocate for the LGBT community. He’s worked with the NFL to combat homophobia in their ranks (something that we will see how far they have come with Nassib’s coming out) and is a motivational speaker spreading a message of love, inclusion, and making sure sexual orientation does not hold children or anyone else back from achieving their highest dreams. He is also the executive director of Hate is Wrong, a non-profit that seeks to encourage diversity and combat bullying among children.

In short, sing Nassib’s praises this week as he deserves every single note sung his way, and thank Sam for helping to open the door for Nassib to walk through. Just don’t forget to thank Tuaolo either, who turned on the light in a dark world so that Sam could see that door.