When former NFL jock Esera Tuaolo comes to town, he makes a splash. Once as a defensive end during the Super Bowl season of the Falcons. And now as an Honorary Grand Marshal of the Atlanta Pride parade.
The former NFL star has come a long way since his days of growing up on a small banana in Waimanalo, Hawaii. The youngest of eight children, Tuaolo has always had a love for family and music, thanks to his parents pushing him to entertain guests.
Graduating from toting 50-pound bunches of bananas across the Hawaiian hillsides, Tuaolo moved on to his next greatest love: strong-arming and plowing down opponents on the field. He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers and through a nine-year NFL career he went on to the Super Bowl in 1999 while with the Atlanta Falcons. In anticipation of his return to the ATL, we caught up with the swoon-worthy daddy. Tuaolo shares his insights on being a gay player in the nation’s most scrutinized sport, his now-thriving music career and the honor he feels in being selected as one of Pride’s Honorary Grand Marshalls.
What was coming out like after you retired from the NFL?
That seems ages ago now, but since 2002 so much has happened. Definitely life is so much better when you're living in the truth, you're able to be yourself and not have to deal with all the stress, hurt or depression that comes along with being in the closet. It’s actually been a great experience to be out, have a voice and contribute in some small little way to the LGBT fight.
Was that a hard transition, going from playing football to the gay performer that you are now?
No, I think the fear that I had and I think a lot of people have is the fear of the unknown, especially being in such a high-profile environment … coming from the NFL, which is one of the biggest entertainment industries in the world. When I came out, I came out with a family. I came out with a partner and two kids. That was another thing for us. The fear of how accepting people would be. Now, looking back, we received tremendous support from the LGBT community. Also, I have many straight alliance allies. It felt absolutely amazing to be able to have what my straight NFL teammates had, to be able to walk down the street and everyone know that that’s your family and everybody knows that you're gay. Being gay doesn’t define me at all. The only difference is who I decide to give my heart to. For me, my heart belongs to a man.
Not everybody gets such a welcoming experience.
Times are changing, right? I think the more the issue of the LGBT community is out on the table for people to talk about, the better it is. Last year I coached my 14-year-old son’s football team, and one of his best friends that played on the football team, is out. He came out to his parents, and the parents are supportive. Things are happening. Things are changing for the better. I thought he was being bullied and automatically the protective side of me came out. My son was like, “Dad, don’t worry. He’s a good player.” They were judging him not because of who he loves, but they were judging him because he was a good player at 14 years old.
Turning to your music, where did you get the inspiration for “Stronger?”
I’m signed with Music Plant records out of Chicago. The song was written by Georgie Porgie, who is the owner of Gridiron Records. We talked about it. He wrote the song because of my experiences coming out. That’s basically what it is – how we feel so empowered when we come out. It took me 35 years of my life to get that strength.
Have you always wanted to be a performer?
No, I’ve been singing since I was five years old. My dad taught me a song. When I was little in a Polynesian family, I had to entertain all the guests that visited. I’m glad that my mom and my dad pushed me when I was younger to sing and perform because it’s like now I’m singing in front of a 100,00 people. Last week I sang the national anthem for the Minnesota Vikings. The week before that I sang it for the Green Bay Packers. It just kind of equipped me for that. It’s been a passion ever since. I love to sing. It’s one of those things where it comes from the heart and it comes from the gut. I love it. Music is one of those things where you're having a bad day, or you broke up with somebody, you go home and you put on your favorite song and it just makes you feel amazing. That’s what music does, and that’s why I love music.
What do you have coming up for us in the next year or so?
I’m going to be working on another single with the record label. We’re in the process of writing that. Also, I have an organization called Hate in Any Form is Wrong. My website is hateiswrong.com. People can go there. Since I came out, I’ve been going around the country and speaking on homophobia in sports. I’ve been doing that for the last about 15 years. It’s been a very rewarding thing just to educate people about bullying. That whole nursery rhyme, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words kill. We need to address that issue. I didn’t grow up in a fairy tale world, so it’s one of those things where I had issues growing up with being abused.
And I’m also a chef. I go around the country and I cook. I donate chef dinners to big galas. I donated a dinner for 12 to the American Heart Association, and it went for 14 grand. I go into their home and I cook for them and I bring a taste of Polynesia, a taste of aloha to their home.
I’m a renaissance man because since I’ve retired from football, I’m doing everything that I’m passionate about. I also wrote a book, “Alone in the Trenches.” I’m also working with iHeartRadio to do a radio show.
Is there anything specific you like to do while you're in town?
I went to the Super Bowl with Atlanta, so I’m going to see some of my friends down there, some of my NFL friends. It’ll just be great to be back down South and perform for all the fans, all the Atlanta Falcon fans, and also for my LGBT brothers and sisters. We’re just going to be hanging out. It’s going to be cool because Atlanta was my first Pride. I am so pumped to come back!
How does it feel to be named Honorary Grand Marshall of the Pride parade?
It’s great! It’s always great to be honored for something. I feel honored. I’m excited for the opportunity just to come out there and represent the community. That’s what I’m going to do. It’s not all about me. It’s all about who comes with me. That’s all my brothers and sisters in the LGBT community.
Esera Tuaolo appears on Friday during the Pride Kick Off Party at the Eagle.