The joy, elation and relief were all on display. You could hear it all in Esera Tuaolo's gifted and cultivated voice.
As the nine-year veteran NFL player spoke about Carl Nassib's brave and monumental decision to come out as gay while an established NFL player -- a decision Tuaolo could not have conceived of himself during his time in the league -- all of those emotions welled up.
Tuaolo, an accomplished singer who reached the latter stages of "The Voice" after retiring from the NFL, has spent much of his post-playing days advocating for the LGBTQ community as an author and activist, and has one of the more unique perspectives on Nassib's moment as you will find. And it was certainly a cause for celebration for Tuaolo and the countless other gay NFL players who came before them.
The idea of any player coming out as homosexual was an impossibility during Tuaolo's playing days, which spanned from 1991 to 1999 and included a Super Bowl appearance with the Falcons. It was a foreign concept, almost beyond contemplation for gay players at the time. It is, hopefully, a springboard for further acceptance and for more men to feel comfortable enough to step forward, but something Tuaolo could have never even considered during his time in the league.
"Oh, hell to the no," Tuaolo said when asked on "Inside Access" on 1057 The Fan in Baltimore if he has ever considered doing what Nassib did. "Not back in my era. Back in my era, back in the '90s, there was no education. Every time the topic of homosexuality would come up it was always negative, and it was a fight that broke out.
"There wasn't any support like there is now, which is so amazing, and people are telling their stories on social media and more athletes are coming out, professional athletes. It's one of those things where it's getting a lot easier, and it feels amazing to have people share their stories."
There are definite strides being made, Tuaolo said, but still obviously so much work to be done to reach a state of tolerance and acceptance and equality that should already be ingrained in our culture and country and locker rooms and board rooms and front offices. For those for whom the movement is so very important, and those who have walked in Nassib's footsteps, this feels like a massive time and place; a culmination of sorts but also a new beginning that could lead to creating a climate further conducive to others coming forward.
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"This is like sort of what we've been fighting for, and also what we have been waiting for: An active NFL player to come out and live his authentic self," Tuaolo told me. "So it's pretty sweet to see that. When I heard the news I was super happy, because all of the speech and all of the education that I try to put out there and everybody else tries to put out there with the LGBTQ community, and it's one of those things where then when you have something like this happen, it's absolutely incredible."
Perhaps in the coming days other players will join Nassib in sharing their authentic selves with us. Tuaolo believes, in time, they will. His bravery will inspire others, which will in turn further tear down some of the divide of sexual orientation among those who play football for a living (and, hopefully, among those who coach it, scout it, watch it, and cover it as well).
"It's a ginormous step to tell you the truth from when I played ball in the '90s to now," Tuaolo said. "It's a beautiful thing, and I tell you what this will … hopefully open the floodgates for other players to come out of the closet. And seeing the response of the fans, Raider Nation, are you kidding me, that's amazing, their support for Carl. And also his friends and guys he plays with, seeing that support will hopefully open up the floodgates and more players will come out."
It's worth noting that Fanatics shared Nassib has the NFL's top-selling jersey over Monday and Tuesday. Of course, zealots will push back against the moment despite what it means to so many. Tuaolo lived through people telling him, his partner and their children that they were all doomed to hell for living the only way they knew how. It can be ugly out there. Surely, some repugnant individuals will heckle Nassib and call him slurs, though I suspect it's not nearly as frequent as it would have been in the past.
Several players I have discussed this topic with privately over the years led me to believe that many locker rooms were strong enough and mature enough to handle an openly gay teammate, and I would be surprised if Nassib faces any issues within his peer group or organization. He may not even be the only gay player on that roster -- or among the teams he will face -- and many players have friends or loved ones who are gay or identify in ways beyond male or female. There was something so honest and real about the way Nassib passed along his truth, which should resonate with those throughout the football world.
"I think he handled it very well the way he came out," said Tuaolo, who eventually came out on "Real Sports" on HBO after his playing days. "It wasn't like a national show or anything. He just came out on social media and was like, 'By the way, I wanted to tell you guys that this is something I am struggling with.' Amazing."
Tuaolo believes Nassib is poised for great things on the field as well. One's identity is tied to what they do, and how they do it, and if Nassib receives the type of support and respect that Tuaolo anticipates, it will take a weight off of him on game days as well. He will be unshackled from carrying a secret or worrying about someone else outing him, which should bring joy to other aspects of his life including his career.
"Believe me, I promise you, if I could play football right now being out and feeling this way, man the sky would be the limit," said Tuaolo, the 35th overall pick out of Oregon State in 1991 who won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-10's premier defensive lineman. "I was a good player and I have the stats to show it, but when you are living with a crippling secret and you are living with people and all the negativity with who you are as a person, it really weighs down on your performance. But now that he is out and can be free and live in his truth, the sky is the limit for him. I really think he's going to be a better player."
The NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell and Raiders brass and ownership were quick to endorse Nassib's decision and express their support for him, and for others to do as he did. Now, when Tuaolo speaks to others about this topic, he has another story to tell.
"I just wanted to be able to walk down the street with my family and everyone know we were a family," Tuaolo said of his decision to publicly come out after he and his partner adopted one-week-old twins.
He said he was still second-guessing the decision with his partner during the interview, worried they may have made a mistake. Nassib's decision further reinforces Tuaolo's choice, and the veteran will spread this gospel as part of his Hate Is Wrong organization, including through their annual Super Bowl party and fundraisers to fight bullying while fostering acceptance and diversity.
He hopes that in time what Nassib did will no longer be seen as a major event. He knows the emotions that coming out engender, and hopes other NFL players experience it as well.
"Living in this truth is the best thing ever," Tuaolo said. "Being true to yourself is the best thing ever."