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Esera Tuaolo    

NFL Veteran & LGBT Role Model

For nine years, Esera Tuaolo excelled in the N.F.L. as a defensive lineman: he played for five different teams and went to Super Bowl XXXIII with the Atlanta Falcons. He played with some of football’s greatest, including Brett Farve, John Randle and Jack Del Rio. He even sang the national anthem in uniform at a nationally televised Monday night game as a rookie and at the 1999 Pro-Bowl.

But as a gay man in the hyper-masculine culture of professional football, Tuaolo was forced to hide his sexuality. The secret crippled him, leading him to drink excessively and contemplate suicide. It also hindered his football achievements, as he felt that if he were too good a player, he would be exposed as a homosexual. He led a double life that deeply depressed him, but which he now looks back on with a new perspective. During this difficult time, he persevered by following his mother’s example and maintaining his strong spiritual faith.

It was after retiring from professional football that Tuaolo became fed up with pretending to “be straight.” He publicly announced his sexuality, which he describes as “taking off a costume I’ve been wearing all my life.” Only one of three former N.F.L. players to ever come out, he has received huge amounts of support: from old teammates, the media, friends and family alike. Now he brings his incredible story to the podium to inspire others to achieve their best by speaking to their individual truths without fear or intimidation.

Tuaolo’s autobiographical account, Alone in the Trenches, with John Rosengren, tells the agonizing and compelling tale of a dirt-poor Samoan immigrant who won a football scholarship to Oregon State, played in the Super Bowl and then made a life-changing decision that ultimately saved his life, his family, and his Christianity. At its heart, Esera’s story also exposes the behind-the-scenes world of professional football and what happens on the field and in the locker room.

Born on Oahu Island in Hawaii, Tuaolo grew up on a small banana farm as the youngest of eight children. In order to get better exposure as a football player, he moved to California when he was in high school. College recruiters immediately noticed him, and he went to play for Oregon State University after graduating. At Oregon State, he was a first-team All-PAC 10 selection and won the coveted Morris Trophy.

In 1990, the Green Bay Packers drafted Tuaolo with the 35th pick-the highest an OSU defensive player had ever been taken. In what is traditionally a humiliating initiation ritual at Green Bay’s training camp, all rookies are required to sing a song to their teammates before being allowed to take a place at the table for dinner. Tuaolo’s rousing version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” led him to be the first player ever to perform the national anthem at a nationally televised game.

During his ten-year career in professional football, Tuaolo constantly proved he was a productive run-stopped and talented defensive lineman. He has retired to pursue a career in acting and singing. He lives outside of Minneapolis with his partner and their adopted twin son and daughter.

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