Esera Tuaolo, the former Oregon State Beavers football and NFL player who came out publicly as gay in 2002, has been named the recipient of the 2024 NCAA Inspiration Award.

According to the NCAA:

“The award is presented to a coach or administrator currently associated with intercollegiate athletics or to a current or former varsity letter winner at an NCAA school. It honors those who used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome a life-altering situation and become role models, giving hope and inspiration to others.”

Since coming out, Tuaolo has been a champion for LGBTQ people, speaking to audiences about his experiences whenever asked and forming a non-profit, Hate Is Wrong.

When he came out publicly in 2002, some people still debated whether a gay man could physically play a tough sport like football at the highest level. Despite the previous coming out of David Kopay and Roy Simmons, stereotypes festered.

Tuaolo, with his resume as a defensive end and huge biceps, helped quiet that nonsense.

“That’s what’s great about my position now is that I can touch both worlds,” Tuaolo told the NCAA for the award’s announcement. “People love me because I play football or because I’m part of the LGBTQ+ community. To bridge the gap between both communities is the key to help people understand that we’re all the same.”

He embraces all aspects of his humanity. While he is a tough former football player, he also didn’t shy away from drag while performing in Provincetown — He embraces his feminine side just as much as his masculine side. He also leans into his Hawaiian heritage — Mr. Aloha is his nickname, something he embraces.

His insights as a Christian — he grew up in the Assembly of God Pentecostal Church — help build a bridge between the LGBTQ and Christian communities, as he did recently on his Mr. Aloha Coffee Talk on Instagram.

Tuaolo is a wildly talented individual, having played professional football in the NFL, competed on NBC’s ‘The Voice’ and released various songs featuring his powerful singing voice including a great Christmas album, and been featured as a chef in Minnepolis, Provincetown and by the NFL. He’s also sung the National Anthem ahead of many games across sports.

Outsports offers huge congratulations to Tuaolo for the great honor, and to the NCAA for making such a great choice.