Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin believes his womanizing might have stemmed from seeing an older brother whom he idolized dressed as a woman and learning that brother was gay.
In the latest issue of Out magazine, in which he appears wearing just a pair of shoulder pads and jeans on the cover, Irvin said he was 12 when he discovered his older brother, Vaughn, walking the streets of his Fort Lauderdale, Fla., neighborhood wearing women's clothing. Irvin said his father, a preacher, told him: "Yes, that's your brother. And you love your brother."
The former Dallas Cowboys star now appears on NFL Network and his own radio show in Miami. He has supported same-sex marriage on his radio show and said he's waiting for an active player in the NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL to publicly declare that he's gay.
"Until we do that, we're going to be stuck in the Dark Ages about a lot of things," Irvin told the magazine. "When a guy steps up and says, 'This is who I am,' I guarantee you I'll give him 100 percent support."
Irvin said carrying the burden of Vaughn's secret gave him a hint of how tough it must be for a homosexual athlete to hide his orientation in a locker room. Irvin had a decorated football career at the University of Miami, where he won a national championship in 1987, and with the Cowboys, who won three Super Bowls during the 1990s.
"I'm not gay, but I was afraid to even let anyone have the thought," Irvin said. "I can only imagine the agony -— being a prisoner in your own mind -- for someone who wants to come out. If I'm not gay and I am afraid to mention it, I can only imagine what an athlete must be going through if he is gay.
"I would like to see players come forward and be happy with who they are. Hopefully, as we move forward, we'll get to a place where there's no way it's even considered; it just is what it is and everybody can do what they do. That's the ultimate goal."
"I believe, if a teammate had said he was gay, we would have integrated him and kept moving because of the closeness," Irvin said. "We had a bunch of different characters on that team. Deion (Sanders) and Emmitt (Smith). I believe that team would have handled it well."
Still, Irvin believes the fast life he led in the NFL was to accentuate his heterosexuality. He said he wanted everyone in the locker room to see him have the most women and the nicest car "so that everybody says, 'Michael's the man.' "
"Maybe some of the issues I've had with so many women -- just bringing women around so everybody can see -- maybe that's residual of the fear I had that, if my brother is wearing ladies' clothes, am I going to be doing that? Is it genetic?" Irvin said. "I'm certainly not making excuses for my bad decisions. But I had to dive inside of me to find out why I was making these decisions, and that came up."
Irvin said Vaughn's cross-dressing was never discussed among the family, which included 17 children. Throughout his career, Irvin said, he feared that Vaughn's sexual orientation would become publicized and shame the family. It wasn't disclosed until the Out article.
Irvin said he remained close to his brother, a bank manager, until his death from stomach cancer in 2006. Vaughn was 49.
"He was the smartest, most charismatic man I'd ever seen in my life," Irvin said.
As an African-American, Irvin said the issue of gay rights comes down to one thing for him: equality.
"I don't see how any African-American with any inkling of history can say that you don't have the right to live your life how you want to live your life," Irvin said. "No one should be telling you who you should love, no one should be telling you who you should be spending the rest of your life with. When we start talking about equality and everybody being treated equally, I don't want to know an African-American who will say everybody doesn't deserve equality."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.