During his six seasons in the NFL, Kwame Harris remained in the closet because he did not believe being gay was "compatible" with his career. A first-round selection out of Stanford in the 2003 NFL Draft, the 6' 7" offensive lineman spent five seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and one with the Oakland Raiders before retiring in 2008.
"I love football. Football provided me with some experiences and some opportunities that I wouldn't trade for anything else," Harris told Coy Wire in an exclusive interview with CNN that aired on Friday. "But at the same time, the cost was great in asking me to not speak candidly or be able to be open about myself in this complete manner."
Harris kept his sexuality private during his career in the NFL but found himself in the spotlight after an alleged altercation with a former boyfriend generated headlines in January.
At the time, defense lawyer Alin Cintean told The Associated Press that Harris identifies himself as gay, but "is not very public about it." The 31-year-old broke his silence this week speaking with Wire, a former teammate at Stanford who also played in the NFL. In the interview, Harris spoke publicly for the first time about being gay and reflected on his decision to remain silent during his career.
"No, not while I was playing. I didn't see those two things as being compatible," Harris said when asked if he ever considered coming out while playing in the NFL. "But now when I look back in hindsight, if I could have done it differently, I would like to think that I would find the strength or find the fortitude or the grace to kind of make the hard decision."
According to a recent report by Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com, there is a gay player currently in the NFL who is strongly considering coming out publicly. In his conversation with Wire, Harris expressed hope that his recent candor would help young gay athletes realize that they are not alone.
"I want people -- whether they're gay athletes or athletes who are still in the closet or youth who aren't quite sure of what their sexuality is -- to realize that not only is that not unique but those feelings are common feelings," Harris told Wire. "Don't feel incredibly alone in having these questions."
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