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Esera Tuaolo    

NFL Veteran & LGBT Role Model

Esera Tuaolo played in the NFL for 10 consecutive seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons (1998 Super Bowl contender team) and the Carolina Panthers. He was the first Rookie in Packer history to start all 16 games and was a member of the 1991 all-rookie team. In college he was the winner of the Morris Trophy given to the best defensive player in the Pac-10. He was a member of the all-Pac-10 team in 1988, 1989 and 1990.

In 2003, Esera publicly “came out” as gay. Tuaolo had always felt forced to hide his sexuality as a gay man in the hyper-masculine culture of professional football. The secret crippled him, leading him to drink excessively and even contemplate suicide. It also hindered his football performance; 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 a strong sense of faith.

After retiring from professional football Tuaolo became fed up with pretending to “be straight.” He publicly announced his sexuality on HBO Real Sports, an experience he describes as “taking off a costume I’ve been wearing all my life.” One of only three former NFL players to ever “come out,” he has received huge amounts of support from old teammates, the media, friends and family.

Since “coming out of the closet” in 2003, Esera has been speaking to schools and corporations about the pervasiveness of homophobia in sports and business, helping organizational leaders understand how to create a safe environment for members and employees. Audiences of all ages learn how to identify and peacefully combat bullying and other forms of discrimination. Audiences are inspired to be their best selves by speaking to their individual truths without fear or intimidation.

Tuaolo’s autobiographical account, Alone in the Trenches, with John Rosengren, explores the 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. Tuaolo’s story also exposes the behind-the-scenes world of professional football from what happens on the field to locker room antics.

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. 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 and talented defensive lineman. Tuaolo is now national recording artist signed with Music Plant Group and is an Executive Chef at Seven Ultra Lounge, Sushi and Steak House restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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