Aloha Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honor to be here at the first Summit for LGBT Inclusion in Sports hosted by the Minnesota Vikings. It’s taken awhile but I’m glad that day has arrived. Also, it’s a pleasure to work alongside my cousin Greg Louganis. The impact that he has had with the sports world and the LGBT movement has motivated me to speak up and make a difference in this world.
I’m going to throw out some stats for you:
- I played in the NFL for 9 years when the average player plays only about 3.
- I played in 111 games during my 9-year career.
- I started 46 games, and was the first rookie in Packer history to start each game of the season.
- I got the Morris Trophy, an NFC Championship ring, and a collection of 67 game balls.
- I also got and gave a lot of blood, sweat, broken bones, concussions, and so many other sacrifices NFL players give when playing in the NFL.
Now you may be asking yourself, “Why is he giving us his stats?”
Well in the world we live in credibility is everything. Credibility will get you heard and included. This is true especially in the NFL, where players are brought up and ranked by stats and countless comparisons.
So my point is: I was more than just good enough to play in the NFL. I actually did well. But I did it as a closeted man. And I don’t think I would have seen a single stat I mentioned or any others I didn’t mention if I came out of the closet at the time.
Here are some more stats:
- Since the NFL was founded, there have been only seven NFL regular-season players who came out as gay.
- All of us came out after leaving the NFL.
- Four other players also came out as gay, but were released before playing a single regular season game.
- There has been no openly gay or bisexual player who played a single regular game, let alone a season. None. Zero.
And it’s not just the numbers. In 2013, San Francisco 49ers’ Chris Culliver openly said, and I quote: “I don’t do the gay guys man. I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up out of here if they do.” In 2014, a Minnesota Vikings’ coach was suspended for three weeks for saying, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows. In 2015, New York Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. reported he heard homophobic slurs from other players. These are just a few examples that bring the stats to life.
Had I been out at the time of my NFL career, I wouldn’t have had an NFL career. And that’s why I am here, and why we are all here today, to change the environment of sports.
I’m going to focus on something I mentioned at the beginning: credibility. Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s not just the outright hate gay athletes have to face, but it’s also the loss of credibility. The loss of credibility can be just as bad if not worse than the outright hate. When people hear you’re gay, they assume a lot, that you’re weak, submissive, fragile, and always on the verge of sexually assaulting other men, like a predator. These assumptions cut deep in the NFL, where players are expected to be tough, macho, hard, and definitely not into any “funny business” in the locker room. These assumptions strip gay athletes of credibility before gay athletes even get to take their chance to earn credibility in the first place. They make gay athletes and the NFL look like oil and water.
Focusing on these homophobic assumptions and implicit biases, I created a non-profit last November called Hate is Wrong. I’m the Chief Executive Officer.
This past Super Bowl, Hate is Wrong threw the first-ever NFL-sponsored Super Bowl Inclusion Party. It brought big business on board too, like Adidas and iHeartRadio, along with some awesome athletes, celebrities, and people of all backgrounds.
And all we did was two things. First, we raised money for local charities. And second, we had a party. Not one of those snobby parties where people sit around tables and network for an hour before shaking hands and going home. No. Our party had awesome DJs playing the top hits, live performances from over 10 artists on The Voice, great drinks and cozy bar-style food, and a good time between people of all backgrounds.
It’s so simple and yet so effective. For so many people, including so many sports fans, it was the first time they’ve seen the LGBT community and the NFL so close. It was the first time some people realized how many LGBT sports fans and sports players there are out there. They saw straight professional athletes and celebrities they looked up to and came to see hanging out with gay fans and up-and-coming players like it was nothing. Just having a drink and a good time.
And a light bulb went off, even if they didn’t realize it at the time. Maybe gay people, including gay players, aren’t all that different. Maybe they’re not fragile, weak, and submissive. Maybe they’re not sexual predators. Maybe they’re hardcore sports fans, too, and… Maybe they make good athletes.
As I look out into the audience, I see such a diverse group of people. As I look out into the audience, never in a million years would I think I would be standing here before you.
I’m hoping this first-ever LGBT Inclusion in Sports Summit can be like the Super Bowl Inclusion Party. No judgments. No pressure. Just people coming together, every year, being open and honest, and creating a bit more LGBT inclusion in the NFL. And I am excited for the future and for the thousands of young gay athletes around the world whose dreams of becoming a professional athlete will become reality.
Thanks to all the speakers that came today to share their story. Your struggle will not go unrecognized. Let’s stand together and continue to fight for diversity, equality, and inclusion. There is a wave of equality, diversity and inclusion coming. You either catch it or you’ll get left behind. Let’s make sure we catch it.
Mahalo Esera Tuaolo