MINNEAPOLIS, MN (KHNL) - One of the most prominent openly gay athletes is praising the Western Athletic Conference and University of Hawaii for taking such swift action against Coach Greg McMackin. Former NFL player Esera Tuaolo says slurs against gays perpetuate a homophobic atmosphere in the world of sports.
Hawaii native Esera Tuaolo played nine seasons in the NFL as a defensive lineman. He was a part of five professional teams in his career. The gay athlete did not acknowledge his homosexuality when he was playing.
"Back in the older days, people would say stuff like this and it would be slipped under the rug," said Tuaolo.
He says he was disappointed when he heard about the controversy surrounding Coach McMackin and his use of a gay slur in front of reporters.
"These are the things that we are fighting so hard to get rid of and to have someone of his stature to say something like that is not right, not right at all," said Tuaolo.
He adds, gay slurs cut a deep psychological scar in the psyche of a gay child.
"It pushes them further and further into depression, further and further into the closet," said Tuaolo. "It pushes them to commit suicide and take their own lives."
Some have criticized the media for giving the McMackin story national coverage, but Tuaolo says even gay jokes can further marginalize members of the gay community.
"It's definitely not right because any time you're discriminating against a culture, discriminating against someone's sexuality, it's wrong," he said. "Any time you hurt someone, it's wrong."
Since his retirement, Tuaolo talks to different groups about sensitivity training. He also wrote a book about his experience in the NFL, entitled Alone In The Trenches: My Life As A Gay Man In The NFL.
He says the collective reaction to McMackin's gay slur shows the world is becoming more tolerant.
"It's a positive thing as far as knowing that we're moving forward because society is stepping up to the plate," said Tuaolo.