NFL rookies got a taste of what it’s like to play football in the closet when ex-defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo addressed the 10th annual rookie symposium, an event designed to prepare rookies for life on and off the field.
It was the first time the symposium included a talk by an openly gay player.
Esera Tuaolo, who came out three years after his retirement from football, was part of a panel on diversity in the league.
"When I took the job four years ago," Mike Haynes, league vice president of player and employee development, told ESPN.com, "one of the things I wanted to really stress was tolerance. And that takes on a lot of forms, from tolerating the kind of music that's maybe being played in the locker room, to the way a guy dresses, or even what part of the country he is from. And so this was just a natural step in the evolution."
Tuaolo’s talk was an eye opener for many rookies. “I think a lot of guys were shocked at what [Tuaolo] had to tolerate at times," Haynes told ESPN.com. "This went way beyond our normal 'well, we're an equal opportunity employer' discussion of diversity that we might have had in the past. Esera was great. He talked, for instance, about the kind of language that might be used in the locker room and about how, no matter the intent, it could be hurtful to some people. He made some terrific points."
Currently, Tuaolo, 37, is working with the league to gain domestic partner benefits. For more on Esera Tuaolo’s life in the NFL as a gay man, read RealJock’s interview with Esera.