Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Former Packer talks about career in closet

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As he watched Monday night’s NFL game between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints, former defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo couldn’t help but reminisce about his playing days. The memories of his name echoing throughout the stadium came rushing back. Then again, so did some not-so-pleasant memories.

“It kind of took me a little bit back to the times when I was right in the middle of the trenches,” Tuaolo said in an interview with The Badger Herald. “It was exciting as far as remembering some of the good plays that I did, but also what happened was a bunch of those bad feelings came back and that didn’t make me miss it anymore.”


Those bad feelings stemmed from a secret he was holding inside of him. It was something his teammates didn’t know. Neither did the fans. Even his own mother had no idea.

During his nine seasons in the NFL, Tuaolo never told anyone he was gay.

It wasn’t until 2002, three years after retiring from the league, when the second round draft pick for the Green Bay Packers came out publicly. There was no way he could possibly tell his teammates, as he feared it would alter how they viewed him in the locker room. And he constantly lived with the fear a fan might hear his name called or see him on TV and then out him.

“We live in a society that doesn’t accept us for who we truly are,” Tuaolo said. “So it was kind of like every time the topic of homosexuality would come up in the locker room or anything like that, I would cringe up because it was always something negative.”

Surprisingly enough, Tuaolo — who, after a season-and-a-half with the Packers, went on to play for Minnesota, Jacksonville, Atlanta and Carolina — never anticipated his teammates catching onto the fact that he was gay. He was convinced he had done a good enough job acting as a straight man.

“Of course you kind of go that extra mile so no one would find out that I was gay. I think I did such a great job in going over and beyond the box that guys … really didn’t think that I was because of that,” Tuaolo said. “Go to strip clubs with them, party with them, make sure they saw me take home a girl, make sure they saw me hit on a girl.”

There came a point in Tuaolo’s playing career, however, where he hit rock bottom. The pressure and stress of playing and living while keeping this huge secret eventually led Tuaolo to a destructive lifestyle.

“There were times when alcohol was my best friend because I would drink my pain away or drink my sorrows away,” Tuaolo said. “There were a lot of times when I stepped back and questioned myself, ‘What am I doing? Why am I doing this?’ And most of those times came during the dark time where I wanted to commit suicide. It was one of those things where I was kind of fed up with my life and what I was going through and why I had to hide.”

The only two things that kept Tuaolo going though the darkest of times were his faith and his mother, who had raised eight children including Esera.

“It was my mother and also my faith in God,” Tuaolo said. “A lot of it was my mom because I loved her so much and I had such a great relationship with her. My rookie year in the league, I lost a brother. He was 29 years old. For me, just seeing the pain that was on my mom’s face — it was just one of those things where I knew just I couldn’t do it.”

A more accepting society

Now retired for nine years, Tuaolo believes society — and the masculine NFL culture in which he played — have both changed, becoming more accepting of homosexuality. Still, he said, it will likely be a long time before a football player comes out during his career.

“They say one out of 10 is gay in society. I would have to say in the NFL, it’s got to be a lot lower than that,” Tuaolo said. “When I say lower than that, I mean that the possibility of having a gay guy in the NFL is really slim. It’s not that they’re not out there; there are definitely some gay guys that play in the NFL. But it’s just that there’s a time in our lives that a lot of them don’t want to deal with all the crap that comes along with the sports.”

While he was in the league, Tuaolo never found himself attracted to teammates. A professional football team, he said, was not the appropriate situation for something like that to take place.

“For me — and I think for a lot of people — when you make a team, you get so close to these guys that they become like your brothers. They become like family where you don’t look at them that way,” Tuaolo said. “It’s a place of sanctuary for us, for all the guys to come in and talk about stories, talk about the game, talk about life, and you don’t even think about things like that. For me, being a closeted man in such a homophobic arena, it didn’t really cross my mind.”

Living free out of the closet

Life as a gay man has been good for Tuaolo since coming out six years ago. He wrote a book in 2006 titled “Life in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man” and has a CD titled “Esera” set to be released in December.

“I feel happy. I feel healthier,” Tuaolo said. “It’s amazing raising my kids (he has 7-year-old twins) and not being in the closet and having to hide anything. It’s amazing everyone knowing that we are a family. … Just being out, being healthy, being alive, being a good father is amazing to me.”

Tuaolo also travels the country speaking to schools about his experiences. He will be speaking on campus tonight at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Union Great Hall with the hope of educating students.

“For me, it’s just rewarding and amazing that I could go around the country and speak to a lot of these young kids — not to convert, or not to change,” Tuaolo said. “There’s not an agenda. The only agenda that I have is to educate people on the GLBT issues and educate people on what people might be going through and what their best friends might be going through, their moms, their aunts, their uncles.”

And Tuaolo knows just how wide of an impact his message can have.

“If I ask the whole crowd how many people know someone that’s gay, I’ll bet you that 85-90 percent of the people in the auditorium will raise their hand because everybody has someone or knows someone that’s gay,” Tuaolo said. “My thing that I love to do is I love to go around the country and speak, and I love to save lives. That’s my job right now is to save lives, to educate people.”

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