After breaking the ‘sexuality barrier’ NBA player Jason Collins said he "felt whole" for the first time in his life -- a feeling that former NFL player Esera Tuaolo said he can relate to after guarding the secret of his own homosexuality until after he retired.

Collins, a veteran who played for both the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards this year, penned a column in the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated.

"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center," Collins wrote. "I'm black. And I'm gay."

He is the first athlete currently playing in one of the major North American sports leagues to openly admit the fact he is gay.

"I've endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time," Collins wrote in the column.

Tuaolo, who revealed he was gay in 2003, after retiring from a nine-year career in the NFL, said Collins' statement resonated deeply with him.

"One of the things that really touched the core of me is something that he wrote, saying that when he came out, he felt whole again. When I said the words on national television, 'I'm gay,' I felt whole, I felt amazing, like this huge burden had been lifted off of me that I'd been carrying since I was a child," Tuaolo told CTV's Canada AM.

"So I understand what he's going through and really commend him for his courage to come out while he's still playing."

Both men said they went to incredible lengths to hide their homosexuality throughout their sports careers. Afraid of the reaction they would face from their teammates and fans, they resisted their sexual attraction to other men and even dated women in order to maintain the ruse.

But both also said that, as they began to reveal their sexuality to those closest to them, they began to feel more and more at peace.

"No one wants to live in fear. I've always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don't sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret," Collins wrote.

By coming out while still playing in the NBA, Tuaolo said Collins is breaking down an invisible barrier that will allow other, younger athletes to be more open about their own sexuality.

Eventually, he said, an athlete's sexuality will no longer be an issue in pro sports. Once that happens, he said, the focus can shift to other "very important" areas such as bullying and youth suicide.

"Times are changing and it was an amazing, historic day yesterday when Jason Collins came out and for myself it's like a confirmation for not only the work I've done but everyone who came before me," Tuaolo said.