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Tuaolo Returns to HBO

(This story was published in 2005).

HBO Real Sports, the show on which former NFL linebacker Esera Tuaolo first came out of the closet in 2002, is revisiting the story with an update on their January 25 episode.

The episode (which repeats several times in the next few weeks) begins by revisiting the 2002 episode in which Tuaolo came out. While Tuaolo provided great insight into his personal life and struggle in that episode, his former Green Bay Packers teammate Sterling Sharpe provided a picture of the NFL that left a bad taste in the mouths of many gay people.

“Had [Esera] come out on a Monday, with Wednesday, Thursday, Friday practices, he’d have never gotten to the other team," Sharpe said in that episode. "He would have never gotten to the game on Sunday.” The implication was that Tuaolo's own teammates would have injured him so badly that he would not have been able to play. Many of Sharpe's comments are also revisited in this episode.

In his new interview with Tuaolo, correspondent Bernard Goldberg delves deeper into the former NFL linebacker's personal life and his struggle coming out of the closet. Tuaolo talks candidly about his perspective of gay people while he was in the NFL - and how that perspective has changed.

“I used to see those gay prides from afar, and I used to run from them," Tuaolo tells Goldberg. "Now I run to them. I run to the opportunity to speak. I run to the opportunity to reach people.”

Tuaolo has made it his mission to reach out to people and raise their impressions of gay people. And what a better person to do it than a gentle former football player whom Goldberg says is "as strong as an ox."

While former Major League Baseball player Billy Bean has said many times that it is impossible for a player to come out while an active player in professional baseball, Tuaolo says he wishes he had while still in the NFL.

“Knowing the effect that it does have on our younger generation, yes, I would come out when I was still playing," Tuaolo says. "Somebody probably would have taken a shot at my legs and try to hurt me. But, the way the gay community has stepped up and has embraced [my family and me], yeah, I would have taken that step, I would have come out while I was still playing.”

Tuaolo says he has received over 40,000 letters and e-mails from people around the world thanking him for his courage to come out as only the third openly gay former NFL player. Tuaolo says he ultimately came out for his husband, Mitchell Wherley, and their children, Mitchell and Michelle.

“I want my children, and kids out there, to know that someone has their back,” he says.

The episode will also include a story on sports gambling addiction and a profile of sportscaster Joe Buck.