A painful childhood, football success and hidden gay trysts, ex-Atlanta Falcon and Green Bay Packer Esera Tuaolo tackles tough subjects with tender grace in his autobiography, “Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL.”
Fearsome no. 98 grew up in Waimanalo, Hawaii, where his size and strength made him a natural for football. While he excelled on the field, he faced troubles at home where his uncle sexually abused him, his aunt was murdered in front of him, another uncle dealt drugs and his gay older brother died of AIDS.
Tuaolo turned to football not so much because he loved the game, but because he recognized an opportunity to free his family from poverty.
"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 told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. "So, my love for the game is bittersweet."
During his career, Tuaolo hid his homosexuality by dating women and consuming too much alcohol while alternately slinking guiltily off to gay bars.
Growing up Tuaolo always felt different. “Fear started for me when I was a young kid, hearing friends of mine call other kids faggot or that he likes to play with Barbie dolls. I saw a part of me in that kid, because that's what I wanted to do! I wanted to play with Barbie dolls. I wanted an Easy-Bake oven. That's the day I took that child within all of us and threw him in the closet. I had to be bigger and stronger and faster than anybody else so that they wouldn't know that I was gay,” he said in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
The Green Bay Packers discovered his lovely singing voice during a team hazing ritual and soon he was singing the “National Anthem” before games.
Now, Tuaolo lives in Minnesota with his partner and their adopted twin children. “Alone in the Trenches” is on sale now.