Can't imagine Esera Tuaolo was ever small enough to bully.
The singer, former NFLer and Viking, who describes himself as "6-4 and a slim, slim 300 pounds," said his childhood was punctuated by other forms of bullying. That is why he has gotten involved in anti-bullying, a cause that he will promote July 11, his birthday, with a free concert from 2-5 p.m. at Calhoun Square.
"It's not a fundraiser, nobody is making any money. Everybody — Georgie Porgie, Jamecia Bennett, OutFront Minnesota, Chris Egert, Dan Riggs — is donating their time. It's just a time where we can come together, listen to great music, hear some great testimonials and be empowered. That's what I do now. I go around the country and speak on homophobia and force and hate," said Tuaolo, who announced that he was gay after retiring from the NFL. "What inspires me to do this is all the kids I have come across who are victims of being bullied. For me, when you put something on the table for people to talk about, that's when the healing starts. That's when people get educated, that's where awareness comes. That's what we are doing, empowering people who are victims of hate."
There are two especially interesting aspects of this interview. There is astounding information about Tuaolo's inability to get in touch with Michael Sam, who could have used Esera's insights before flaming out in the NFL and now apparently the CFL. And there is a precious story about the tenacity of Tuaolo's mother and a papaya tree.
Q: I assume you were too big as a child to be bullied?
A: [Laughter] Yeah, but [long pause] I was bullied in other ways. I was molested and I was beaten. So it was one of those things where I know how it feels to be neglected, degraded, to not feel as if you have any self-worth. That's my personal goal. I don't want any child to feel the way I felt. I know I come across as this big dude, but I'm one of the lucky ones who fought through. There are a lot of kids who don't.
Q: Beaten by whom?
A: My brothers
Q: The nature of it went beyond sibling rivalry?
A: Not all my brothers. There was one who really did some damage to me when I was growing up, so … The relationship is healed so far as I love him and obviously if he needs help I'll always be there for him, but I forgave him for what he did. So I was able to let go. It was a lot more than [sibling nonsense] I bring it out in my book "Alone in the Trenches." It's $2.99 on Nook for Pride Month. No, [my brother] didn't sexually assault me but I was sexually molested by three people I knew. It seemed like I was a magnet for people to do that to me. When I had the opportunity to escape, I did. I ran and never looked back.
Q: When did you have your growth spurt?
A: After high school. I was a skinny kid, a linebacker, ripped and all of that. When I went to college, that's when I gained my weight and grew a couple inches taller.
Q: There was a time when football season started you felt an urge to go tackle something. They just finished OTAs at Winter Park.
A: That was like five years out of football. That's when a lot of athletes struggle because they think they can still play. After that you figure, "You're too old, you can't do that." I've been out 15. I don't get that urge anymore, [laughter] but I like to lift [weights].
Q: Have you noticed any delayed effects from concussions or were you more of a giver?
A: I played nose guard. I got a lot of concussions and I'm sure I gave a few. But that's the profession. Playing a nose guard you are never not getting hit. Of course, I am worried about that. The older I get the more the body reacts differently. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and feel OK; sometimes it's hard for me to walk. I try to stay positive about things. By the time I'm 50 … life expectancy for a lineman is 55. I'm 47.
Q: You have left various lingering injuries, though.
A: Yeah, my knees are hurt and creating chronic pain throughout my whole body. Got to keep moving, right?
Q: Remember that teenage boy I arranged for you to play basketball with as a means of slightly adjusting his typical American male homophobia? I am still waiting for him to stumble across the fact that you're gay. He thought you were awesome on the court and when he finds out you're gay it's going to obliterate one of his stereotypes.
A: [Laughter] Oh my God, that was a while back [long laugh.]
Q: Tell me the story about the father who got angry you were showing him up on the basketball court in front of his son. The guy who almost dropped the other f-bomb.
A: When I came out and the whole world knew, I'd go play basketball. Things that guys would say before they knew I was gay [they stopped saying]. You know they just wanted to say it [homophobic expletives] when they were ticked off with you. But like I tell my straight friends, "Don't let the gay thing fool you now" I can still beat you in basketball and other sports.
Q: From what you've told me when your 14-year-old twins were younger, you disciplined like a black mother? There was that incident where you gave them a timeout at the mega mall.
A: Back in the day, the timeout was perfect. I don't care where we were, Disneyland, Mall of America. If you needed some timeout I would time you out, so that's how it works. A timeout doesn't work if you wait 10 or 15 minutes. They have already forgotten about what they did. I think like with anything you just have to stay on top of it. Mitchell [ Wherley, owner of Spalon Montage], my ex-, does a fantastic job also raising the kids and disciplining them as well. Seriously, we got some good kids. They are bigger than most. The compliments we get from their teachers and people around them are very positive. Makes you feel good as a parent.
Q: Were you a spanker?
A: No, no, no. Mitchell wouldn't let me spank the kids or anything like that. Everything that happened in my life that was negative, I didn't want to happen to my kids or any other kids. That's why a timeout became really cool.
Q: Your mother didn't spank?
A: Oh, are you kidding me? My mom was a spanker [laughter]. That was the old school. When you are raising eight kids, unruly and not listening. And it wasn't sugarcoated AT ALL, but it was done with love. We all turned out to be good people. It was funny. We laugh about it now. When I was young, I did something really bad. I broke a window in one of the my tantrums; I was jealous of my little nephew. My mom came chasing after me and I climbed a papaya tree. A big papaya tree. It seemed 20 yards high. She said OK. She got the machete and [breaking up laughing] she cut down the papaya tree [more laughter] with me in it! She said when it fell down I was like a cat. Once I hit the ground I was gone! [More laughing]. She tells that story all the time.
Q: That's hysterical.
A: It is hysterical. It's funny NOW!
Q: You have some lingering frustration with the media over that 2011 ruckus with an old boyfriend that ended up in court?
A: That was a misunderstanding. It got dropped and we still dated like five years and no one would write that it got dropped. It's like, "Are you kidding me?"
Q: I wrote that the legal matter got dismissed. (June 28, 2011.)
A: Oh did you? That's awesome.
Q: Why didn't Michael Sam make it in the NFL?
A: You know, what he did was amazing, don't get me wrong. What he did for kids and stuff like that around the country was awesome. But I just think he should have stayed more focused on football and not dealt with all this circus stuff that comes along with it. Then you kind of send the message to teams, this guy is focused on this. You can't call yourself an NFL player when you haven't made a team, right? [A reference to the Twitter handle @MichaelSamNFL]
Q: What did he do that made you think he wasn't focused on football?
A: The whole media circus that he went on. One kiss would've been fine. Be proud of who you are and stay focused to the game. And then you find out Oprah's cameras were there.
Q: The Oprah angle was ridiculous, not because she asked but because Sam's people agreed. That's not about football. Sam's roll out PR-wise was not nearly as flawless as Bruce Jenner's transgender disclosures.
A: It turned into "Gay NFL Player." Dude, being gay doesn't define you. This is who you decide to give your heart to. When Howard Bragman [Sam's PR exec] called me I said, "Make sure you focus on football." Once you make the team, then you can do all of that. Then you can call yourself an NFL player. But he's opened doors. Hopefully the next person who comes out has the opportunity to play in the NFL.
Q: So you talked to Michael Sam?
A: No I did not. For some reason they were protecting him like he was the pope. I'm not kidding. Every time I would ask someone for his number or to have him reach me, they didn't give him that number. Don't you think somebody who has been there would be a good resource or mentor for him? I just gave up and said, "Whatever." All these professional advisers and nobody who had ever been in a damn game before, never set foot on a football field, giving him advice.
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try email@example.com and to see her check out FOX 9's "Buzz"