The Summit- A Student Publication of Stonehill College
By Matt Gorman
Published: Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Esera Tuaolo addressed the crowded Martin Auditorium last week, filled with students, student-athletes from a range of sports, faculty, administrators and coaches. His story is one not often heard throughout the sports world: this former defensive lineman, who played both at Oregon University and in the NFL, is now openly gay.
At six feet two inches, he is a towering figure but he almost breaks down in tears when talking about the years of hiding his sexuality during his career as a professional athlete.
“Can you imagine a secret that is crippling?” Tuaolo asks. “Thirty-five years of my life was hell.”
Tuaolo said that his secret began as a little kid on the playground, hearing his friends make fun of another boy. Then, moving on to high school, he said that he began hearing the coaches join in the jokes and slurs.
He stated that his years in college and professional football were fraught with worry. He would hear the taunts in the locker room and would do just about anything to dispel any possible rumors, including going home with women. He told of having anxiety attacks when he was drafted into the NFL and when he won the Morris Trophy for the best PAC-10 defensive lineman.
All he could think about, he said, was that someone was going to see his name and find out.
In an interview for HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, teammate Sterling Sharpe stated that if Tuaolo had come out while still playing professional football, he would have been targeted by teammates.
Tuaolo said that he wanted to commit suicide a number of times.
“This is a miracle that I’m still here,” he said.
Tuaolo also talked about the recent string of suicides caused by bullying, singing Sarah McLachlan’s Angel and dedicating it to them, claiming that the song “saved his life.”
“Words hurt,” he said. “It is pathetic that they didn’t have anyone to turn to.”
He also said that since coming out in an interview for HBO’s Real Sports he feels like “a mountain has come crashing down.”
“When I said those words for the first time, it was like coming out of jail.”
Today, Tuaolo has written a book: Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL, and travels the country speaking about his years of silence.
“I smiled before to hide the pain,” said Tuaolo. “I smile now because I mean it.”