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 become an anti-bullying activist, 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."
Two aspects of this interview are especially interesting. There is 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. 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: There was a time when football season started you felt an urge to go tackle something.
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 got a lot of concussions and I'm sure I gave a few. Playing nose guard you are never not getting hit. Of course, I am worried about that. I try to stay positive about things. Life expectancy for a lineman is 55. I'm 47.
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]. 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: 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. 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 got the machete and [breaking up laughing] she cut down the papaya tree 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: So you never talked to Michael Sam?
A: 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.
A longer version of this edited interview is online. To contact C.J. try email@example.com and to see her check out Fox 9's "Buzz."