On Tuesday, April 20, 2010 in the Dolan Science Center Auditorium, Esera Tuaolo, former NFL player, came to speak to the students of John Carroll. For those of you who are not the athletic aficionados, Esera Tuaolo was nicknamed “Mr. Aloha” during his nine years playing professional football. Tuaolo got his start at the Oregon State University and was drafted into the NFL in 1991. During this man’s athletic career he played for teams such as the Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, and even made it to the Super Bowl with the Atlanta Falcons as a defensive lineman.
As if Tuaolo’s athletic career did not provide him with enough credentials to speak to a group of college students, athletes, and faculty, his personal life was what brought him in front of our community members. In 2002, Tuaolo announced to the public that he was gay. This announcement of personal honesty added Esera Tuaolo as only the third professional football player to come out as a gay man; the first being David Kopay in 1972 and Roy Simmons in 1992. Since coming out Tuaolo has become one of the largest advocates to end homophobia in professional athletics and has spoken at national LGBT rights conventions with some of the biggest gay rights advocates. Tuaolo cited Judy Shephard, mother of hate crime victim, Matthew Shephard, as a major influence in his involvement with the struggle for equal rights for homosexuals, “Judy told me that it was my responsibility to tell my story and work towards equality.”
Given the recent movement on our campus to increase the feeling of community for all students, those who identify as LGBT, allies, or heterosexual this speaker could not have been more appropriate! Tuaolo started his speech by screaming obscenities at his audience with an intensity and passion that would rival the worst instances of discrimination giving the audience a sample of what it would feel like to have insults hurled at you. While playing in the NFL Esera Tuaolo hid his sexual orientation for fear of the repercussions that the truth would have on his career. He then described the feelings that he endured while he hid his partner with disguises of “manager” or “brother-in-law” and had to deny that his long time partner, Mitchell, was actually the second father of their twin children. He also shared the feelings of a gay breaking the misconceptions and competing in the NFL while constantly feeling like a second class citizen and athlete because of his masked sexual orientation. The audience was brought along as the story of any professional football player’s goal, to play in the Super Bowl, was dampened because he was not able to share the experience with those closest to him; his family.
The stories shared certainly presented a side of professional athletics that are not the status quo for the general athletic audience and brought more than a few into sharing the emotional state of being as this athlete recounted how the media, along with his “friends” and “teammates” refused to accept their former defensive lineman as “the man God made him.” A combination of emotional story recapturing along with the accessibility of a genuinely likeable athlete had even the toughest Blue Streak Football players questioning the impact words, even when used with innocent intentions, can unknowingly change someone’s life.
The stature of a 6’3” 325 pound Hawaiian lineman standing in the front of the room sharing one of mankind’s most vulnerable experiences is sure to leave an impact upon all in attendance. Hopefully, the words of this motivational man, athlete, and humanitarian will only work towards strengthening a great community.
Until my next post, come visit me at JCU! Schedule a visit at www.jcu.edu/visit!