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Gay athletes still struggle with 'coming out'

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.

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