Ex-Packer tackles life as gay player in book

They should have been two of the greatest moments of his life. Singing the national anthem before a game while a member of the Green Bay Packers and playing in Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami while a member of the Atlanta Falcons.

Instead, Esera Tuaolo was nervous. Not about the task at hand, though, as he explains in his just-released book, "Alone in the Trenches: My Life As a Gay Man in the NFL." What Tuaolo feared was being noticed by one of the men he had sex with, being outed, and then having to deal with the repercussions in a testosterone-filled locker room.

"He would have been eaten alive and he would have been hated for it," former Packers wide receiver Sterling Sharpe said on the HBO "Real Sports" episode in October 2002, during which Tuaolo, who had been retired since 2000, came out.

Tuaolo knew it, so he kept his mouth shut, and forced himself to laugh at the gay jokes cracked in locker rooms.

"In the NFL, the jokes, the banter (came) not only from the players, but the fans and coaches, people you should trust. To hear your father figures discriminate against you doesn't make you feel good," Tuaolo said.

The pain of the jokes and keeping his true self locked inside made Tuaolo contemplate suicide more than once, he wrote.

It's no wonder. In the book, Tuaolo details a painful childhood that included a cheating father, a gay brother who died of AIDS, an aunt who was murdered in front of him and an uncle who sexually abused him as a child.

Because of his size, Tuaolo was pulled toward football. All along, though, he knew who he was.

"At such an early stage in my life, I saw the hatred and rage that being who I was caused people," Tuaolo told the Miami Herald recently during his book tour. "I saw my friends teasing this kid and picking on him and beating him up. They told me he was gay, a fag. He liked to play with his sister's dolls.

"I saw a lot of me. I liked to play with dolls. I wanted an Easy-Bake Oven. I threw that little kid in the closet. I didn't want anyone to see him. Throughout my whole life, he'd been there. But whenever there was any discussion about homosexuality, it was negative. One of the things about coming out and feeling the freedom, I was able to go back and take that little kid out of the closet. Writing this book, I was able to say I'm sorry to that little kid."

Tuaolo calls his football experiences "bittersweet." A native of Hawaii, he starred at Oregon State before being drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the second round of the 1990 draft.

"It was just finding your talent, finding your niche," Tuaolo told the Star-Bulletin of Honolulu. "All the big kids, they get pushed towards that football way — and for me, that was it. I heard a lot of homophobia in the locker rooms, but on the flip side, it was also the only way for me to get out and to get a good education and to support my family."

Tuaolo said he came out because of his children — he and his partner, Mitchell Wherley, live in Minneapolis with two adopted children, who are 5 years old. While some of his former teammates have been supportive, others haven't.

"I think people need to process things in their own way," Tuaolo told the Atlanta Journal Constitution during the book tour. "I didn't come out of the closet to rekindle friendships with old players or anything like that ... but I will be able to tell my grandchildren that there was one point in time that Brett Favre and I were good friends."

Tuaolo didn't play as a rookie but had four sacks in 1991 being released early in the 1992 season. He also played with Minnesota, Jacksonville, Carolina and Atlanta. He finished with 12.5 career sacks.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.

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