Tackling football's closet

In his first gay-press interview, former Minnesota Viking Esera Tuaolo gives an insider’s view of sports homophobia from the locker room to the Super Bowl and talks for the first time about his partner and their children

BY Advocate.com Editors

November 12 2002 12:00 AM ET

“Smoking the pole”?
Where does he come up with that?

I think we’ve reached the point where people
want to make a joke out of it, trying to use humor to
soften the blow of saying, “We don’t
want any gay people here.”

Oh, you mean sugarcoating? Yeah. On
OutSports.com [someone said], “Oh, I have no
problem with gays and lesbians, but my best friend
does.” It’s sugarcoating.

So someone can express his prejudice and still have
people like him.

Yeah.

Tell me about going to the Super Bowl.
It was awesome. I’ll tell you one story:
We had this media day where it was just reporters from
all over the world. Well, this reporter from London or
somewhere, [with] MTV-colored hair -- really flamboyant --
asked me, When I make a tackle do I like to be a top or a
bottom? [Laughs]

And you kept a straight face?
No! Actually, I laughed and giggled.

What was your answer?
Well, if we don’t know, only my husband
will find out!

No, I mean, what was your answer to her?
Oh, I gave her my answer, but I’m not going to
give it to you here.

You took her seriously and gave her a real answer?
Yeah, I gave her a real answer, and she just said,
“Oh!” I guess she thought she was
interviewing somebody that she could make fun of.

By the time you got to the Super Bowl you were
already living with Mitchell. When did you start living together?

In ’98, I think, we moved in
together.

While you were still in the NFL.
Yeah. But we were living together. I was over at
his place. Just to be able to have somebody to hold is
wonderful. And he’s been there through thick
and thin with me.

In raising your two kids, does one of you play good
cop and one bad cop?

No, we do the same. And we’re still
talking about the parenting thing because we’re
from different cultures—I bring to the table what I
think, and he brings to the table what he thinks. But
it’s good.

Do your siblings all still live in Hawaii?
I have a sister who lives in Los Angeles, and a sister
lives with me in Minnesota. My mom goes back and
forth, and the rest of the family is in Hawaii.

What ages are your siblings?
The oldest sibling is 46. I’m [the
youngest, at] 34.

What is your ethnic background?
Samoan and French. When the third-oldest was born, my
parents went from Samoa to Hawaii, and that’s
where we all ended up. It’s a beautiful place.
But the thing that happened to me is that I left the island
and I was able to see other things. I love Hawaii, and
I love the feeling, but I also love the mainland. You
don’t feel like you’re living on a rock. I
think there’s a term, “rock
fever.”

Whose idea was it to move to California when you
were in high school?
I had an aunt who asked my mom if I could come over and
stay with her. [We thought] it would be better for me
as far as education and everything else. I made the
sacrifice, leaving home and leaving my mom. It was a
big decision, but I felt I needed to do it. It’s
funny, but my life’s always been like that.
I’ve always made sacrifices in my life -- you
have to. Everybody should do it if they want to accomplish
their dream or something that they know is out there
for them. You have to have sacrifice in your
life.

Was it even in your mind that it might be a better
launching pad for a football career?
Oh, no. Actually, in Hawaii football was never a
favorite sport of mine! [Laughs] In Hawaii as a
little kid it was really difficult to get to see
games. Back then, you’d have to wake up early
in the morning to watch the games. Now that we have
satellite and cable, it’s a lot easier because
they can delay the game until a later time. But when I
was growing up it was mostly going to the beach:
bodysurfing and surfing and that type of thing.

In high school you did football; you did wrestling;
you did track. How did you end up a tackle? I would
think if you did track, that would mean
you’re fast and that would put you into
another position.

Well, in high school I was a running back and a
linebacker. Then when I got recruited for college, my
Polynesian genes kicked in and I gained some weight,
so I went from a linebacker to [defensive line]. And when
you go to college they make you choose one position, so I
chose defense because I was a little bit better at
that.

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