Defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo, who played for five National Football League teams during his nine years as a pro, has given an interview to HBO's Real Sports revealing that he's gay, the pay-cable network revealed Thursday. The episode will debut Tuesday, October 29, and will be repeated into November. A cover story interview with Tuaolo--and with Mitchell Wherley, his life partner of 5-1/2 years--will follow in The Advocate in early November.
Tuaolo, a graduate of Oregon State University who grew up in Hawaii and graduated from high school in Chino, Calif., retired from the NFL at the end of the 1999 season. He now lives in Minneapolis, where he settled during his years with the Minnesota Vikings in the mid 1990s. He was a second-round draft pick in 1990 and also played for the Green Bay Packers, the Atlanta Falcons--with whom he went to Super Bowl XXXIII in 1999--and the Carolina Panthers.
Tuaolo, 34, told HBO that his retirement was in part a result of the pressures that resulted from being closeted for nine seasons, the New York Post reported Thursday, based on a transcript of the interview. "They didn't know who Esera Tuaolo is," he said. "What they saw was an actor."
Other players often told gay jokes in the locker room, he said, and as a result "made me go further and further into depression, further and further into shame."
Also an accomplished singer, Tuaolo has sung on two compilation albums featuring NFL players and also has self-released his own CD, One Man's Island. He sang the national anthem on a nationally broadcast NFL game during his rookie year, one of many appearances singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at sporting events, beginning while he was in college.
Also interviewed by HBO was ESPN correspondent Sterling Sharpe, who was on the Packers team with Tuaolo. Had his teammate come out while still in the NFL, the Post quotes Sharpe as saying, "he would have been eaten alive, and he would have been hated for it." Tuaolo's partner, Wherley, with whom the ex-footballer is raising 2-year-old twins, will also appear on the HBO program.
Tuaolo is only the third NFL player to reveal he's gay. The first was David Kopay, in 1975. Ex-player Roy Simmons also disclosed he was gay, in a 1992 television appearance, although Simmons has since disappeared from public view. Kopay's autobiography, The David Kopay Story, was recently reprinted by Advocate Books.
Tuaolo's story, including an exclusive print interview with his life partner, will appear in The Advocate and on Advocate.com beginning November 11.