CHICAGO (Reuters) - As a 340-pound (154-kg) nose tackle in the National Football League, Esera Tuaolo was a pretty tough guy. But as a closeted gay athlete he recalls living in constant fear.
"I felt like if I had come out while still in the NFL I would have been in physical danger," Tuaolo told Reuters this week. "They would have taken me out -- gone after my knees, or tried to paralyze me."
Hawaiian-born Tuaolo, who played for the Atlanta Falcons in the 1999 Super Bowl game, was in Chicago to participate in the weeklong Gay Games VII sports festival, and appeared on a panel called "Brokeback Locker Room," about the challenges facing gay and lesbian athletes.
Panelists agreed that although homosexuals now enjoy increased acceptance in public life, the sports arena has been a tough nut to crack.
"Sports is the last frontier in terms of homophobia," said Helen Carroll, sports project coordinator with the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.