When Carl Nassib made the NFL playoffs the last two seasons — with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022 — we had a chance for an active player who is gay to appear in a Super Bowl. But Nassib’s teams were eliminated in the wild-card round each time and so we will await a gay player making history.
There are no openly gay players in Sunday’s Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. There has never been an openly gay player in the Super Bowl, but four players who were later came out have played in the game.
There have certainly been more than four gay or bi men who have played in a Super Bowl, but these are the only four whose sexual orientation has been made known publicly:
Jerry Smith (Washington tight end, Super Bowl VII, 1972 season); Roy Simmons (New York Giants offensive lineman, Super Bowl XVIII, 1983 season); Esera Tuaolo (Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman, Super Bowl XXXIII, 1998 season) and Ryan O’Callaghan (New England Patriots offensive lineman, Super Bowl XLII, 2007 season).
Smith is the only one of the four to start in a Super Bowl, rushing one time for six yards and catching one pass for 11 yards in Washington’s 14-7 loss to the Miami Dolphins, who capped a perfect season with the win.
Smith, who later died of complications from AIDS, never came out publicly as gay. But his orientation was known by his Washington teammates, including running back Dave Kopay, who came out as gay in 1975 after retiring from a nine-year career. NFL Films did a fantastic documentary on Smith’s secret life.
Simmons played with the Giants before landing with Washington (then known as the Redskins, now the Commanders) for their 1983 season that ended in a 38-9 Super Bowl loss to the Los Angeles Raiders. In a 2014 obituary on Simmons, the New York Times reported on his Super Bowl experience:
By his own account, Simmons abused his opportunity in the pros, falling quickly into heavy alcohol and drug use. The night before he played with the Redskins in the 1984 Super Bowl, his last game in the N.F.L., he snorted cocaine. In the stands that Sunday, he said, were friends he had invited, including three lovers — two female, one male. Somehow, he continued to keep his complicated sexuality a secret.
O’Callaghan finished his NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs, but was with the Patriots in 2007 when they lost in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants, 17-14. He came out in 2017 and team owner Robert Kraft has been among his biggest supporters. When I asked Kraft in 2018 about having an openly gay Patriot, he dismissed any concerns, saying, “the only thing I care about is can they help us win.”
Note: This story first appeared in 2019, but has been updated.