Retired professional football player shares his story of life as a gay man in the NFL

Esera Tuaolo

Esera Tuaolo, a former professional football player who publicly came out as a gay man after retiring from a successful career in the NFL, will present Carleton College’s weekly convocation on Friday, May 22 from 10:50 to 11:50 a.m. in the Skinner Memorial Chapel.

Entitled “Alone in the Trenches,” Tuaolo’s talk is based on his autobiography “Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL” (Sourcebooks, 2007). This event is free and open to the public. Carleton convocations are also recorded and archived online at go.carleton.edu/convo.

After retiring from his successful career in the National Football League (NFL), Tuaolo finally decided he was fed up with pretending to “be straight.” In 2003, he publicly announced his sexual preference on HBO’s Real Sports. Tuaolo describes his experience as “taking off a costume I’ve been wearing all my life.” Tuaolo is one of only three former NFL players to ever “come out” and he has since received huge amounts of support from old teammates, the media, and friends and family.

Tuaolo felt forced to hide his sexuality as a gay man while he was playing in the NFL, a sport defined by its hyper-masculine culture. Tuaolo’s secret crippled him, leading him to drink excessively and even contemplate suicide. Tuaolo led a double life that he struggled with deeply, but which he now looks back on with a new perspective. Tuaolo persevered, and since coming out, he 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, and helping people of all ages learn how to identify and peacefully combat bullying and other forms of discrimination.

Of Samoan heritage, Tuaolo was born on Oahu Island, Hawaii, and grew up on a small banana farm as the youngest of eight children. He moved to California in high school to pursue a career in football and was recruited to play for Oregon State University. In 1990, Tuaolo was drafted to the Green Bay Packers. Tuaolo went on to play in the NFL for 10 consecutive seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons, and the Carolina Panthers.

He was the first rookie in the Green Bay Packer’s 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. Tuaolo was also a member of the All-Pac-10 team in 1988, 1989, and 1990.

Tuaolo is also known for being the first player to every sing the national anthem, and then start an NFL game. In addition to public speaking, he now has a career in musical theater and recordings and has performed locally at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis.

This event is sponsored by the Carleton College Office of Intercultural and International Life. For more information, including disability accommodations, call (507) 222-4308. The Skinner Memorial Chapel is located at the corner of College and First Streets in Northfield.