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Kwame Harris, 30, after arrest for allegedly beating his ex-boyfriend.

SANTA CLARA -- Kwame Harris thought that revealing his homosexuality would not be "compatible" during his six-year career with the 49ers and Raiders, Harris told CNN in an interview that aired Friday morning.

Harris, the 49ers' first-round draft pick in 2003 from Stanford, kept his sexual orientation private throughout his career. It stayed that way until two months ago, when Harris appeared in San Mateo County Superior Court regarding allegations he assaulted an ex-boyfriend.

Harris said he did not consider outing himself as the NFL's first openly gay player during a career that spanned five mediocre seasons with the 49ers before a 2008 exit with the Raiders.

"No, not while I was playing. I didn't see those two things as being compatible," Harris said in the CNN interview that was taped at Stanford Stadium with former Stanford teammate Coy Wire.

"But now, when I look back in hindsight, if I could have done it differently, I'd like to think I would find the strength or find the fortitude or grace to kind of make the hard decision."

Harris' career as an offensive tackle was plagued by poor blocking and widespread penalties, mostly for false starts and holding. He led the 49ers in penalties in 2005 and 2006 and was called for a team-high 17 in his season with the Raiders.

Hiding his sexuality apparently took a toll on him mentally.


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"You want to escape this despair, this turmoil, and maybe your mind goes to dark places sometimes," Harris said. "I would just say that I'm happy today, I'm glad I didn't actually ... those are just ideas, and I didn't act on any of those things. It does get better."

Harris said he loved playing football and wouldn't trade his experiences and opportunities for anything.

"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 a complete manner," Harris added.

Harris' assault case drew headlines days before the 49ers played in Super Bowl XLVII. The following day, 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver made anti-gay comments that the 49ers and CEO Jed York strongly condemned.

"I want people -- whether they're gay athletes or athletes who are still in the closet or youths who aren't too sure about what their sexuality is -- to realize that not only is that not unique, but that those feelings are common," Harris said. "Don't feel incredibly wrong about having these questions.

"I'm gay and I'm a former athlete and I think I'm a pretty normal guy."

For more on the 49ers, see Cam Inman's Hot Read blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/49ers. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CamInman.