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 1:00 AM ET

All this time you knew you were gay and didn’t
tell anyone. Did you know of any other gay people in
your family?
I did have a cousin who was gay.

What age, relative to you?
A lot older. But we never discussed anything; I never
discussed anything with anybody. I knew that he was,
but it wasn’t like a topic --

You were scared to talk to him.
Yeah, exactly [laughs]. I was scared to
talk to him. I laugh now because I can, but it was
horrible.

And you grew up in a small town?
Waimanalo. It’s in the countryside. But once I
discovered what [being gay] was, I got scared of it
and I went into the closet with it. And that’s
where football started—or sports, I should say. And
that’s where it all got difficult.

Was there anybody you could talk to?
To actually talk to? No, not when I was a young
athlete.

Are you coming out now, in part, to help young
athletes who think they’re all alone? What made
you want to tell your story at this time in your life?

I wanted the opportunity, when I met people, to
know that they wanted to talk to me because of who I
am and not because I’m this ex-NFL player. I
want the opportunity to go with my husband and our kids to
the market and not have to -- when I see somebody that
knows me -- [say,] “Oh, this is my best
friend.” Even though I was out of the limelight as
far as the NFL, I was still living under that shell.
We have a bubble, and we have a circle of friends who
are beautiful people and are really supportive, and we
have family. I want to eliminate [the confines of] that
circle. I want people to know. I want to be Esera to
everyone, and I want to be myself. I want to have a
great life and be happy with my family. If people
disagree with it, at least I will know where they stand. And
I will know where people stand as far as them not
trying to get to know me because I was a football
player.

Now people will want to get to know you because
you’re openly gay.

Well, I’ll be myself then. I will be
myself and not this actor. [I don’t want my
kids to] wonder, How come you don’t hold
Daddy’s hand?
or How come you don’t
show affection with Daddy?

So you look at your kids and think, If I’m
honest with them, I have to be honest with everyone.

Yeah. And also be honest with myself.
They’re a part of everything. I love them so
much.

And Mitchell gets to be completely honest now too,
after all those years of helping to keep your secret.

It hasn’t all been…one thing about
being in the NFL with all the pressure -- we’ve
had our ups and downs. We’ve definitely had our
problems. But he’s been a wonderful person and
a trouper to hang in with me.

This coming-out, did you decide to do it together?
Or did you just say, “You know, it’s time”?

It’s time. But he also knows the
importance of it. We talked about it. [My thinking
was,] Gosh, we’ve got to do this because I just want
to be able to be in the same room with you. I want my
friends to get to know you; I want your friends to get
to know me.

Before we finish, let’s talk a little bit about
your singing. Tell me about singing the national anthem
in front of thousands of people for the first
time, at a basketball game when you were in college.

Oh, my gosh: [When] they announced my name,
things went silent. You could hear a pin drop. I think
everybody was surprised. Wait a minute, this is Esera
Tuaolo singing the national anthem -- what? And
that’s when I started shaking, until I blurted
out the first note, and then it was fine.

Then what happened?
It was like a chain reaction, where people would see me
sing at an event and ask me to sing for their event,
so I did some NBA games. [Then when I sang the
national anthem] in my rookie year in the NFL, it was on
national television, and I didn’t know that, because
I went home that day and my message machine was just
filled with messages: “Oh, my gosh, you sounded
great!” “Oh, my gosh, you gained
weight!” [Laughs] “Oh, you’re
huge, but you sounded great!” All these
messages on my machine.

I saw comparisons of your voice to Aaron Neville’s.
That’s a compliment, because I think he’s
got a beautiful voice.

Is Mitchell involved in your musical career?
He used to work for Prince, and that was the
[musical] connection for us. He introduced me to my
manager now, Jill Willis, who’s an incredible
woman. She also used to manage Prince -- now she manages
Donny Osmond and me! [Laughs]

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