Esera Tuaolo embodies what it means to show graciousness and kindness. His gentle demeanor and friendly, “Aloha” and “Mahalo” stamped on each conversation makes you feel like part of the family. But there’s a tough side to Esera, too! He was a tackling monster on college fields and in NFL stadiums when he faced his opponents.
Both sides of Esera manifest themselves as he now tackles bullying and also warmly invites one and all to attend his first ever Super Bowl Inclusion Party which he and his team have been working on tirelessly for months; we’ll find out more about that later in the interview. For now, let’s peek into the heart of Esera.
MyEliteNetwork: Esera, you won the Morris Trophy in 1989, you were named Pac-10 Conference first team twice as a senior, and you were a finalist for the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy. Describe what drove you to perform hard enough on the field to earn all those accolades.
Esera: Well, I really didn’t think about awards or anything like that. I just went on the field and did my job, and did it the best I could. When you do that, when you perform, and you do everything required of you, and you do well, everything else kind of falls into place. So, it was an honor to win all those awards, and also an honor to be a recipient of the Outland Trophy for the best defensive lineman in the country in the collegiate world. But, for myself, it was more of just getting out there and making sure I did my job to the best of my ability, and when you do that, you get recognition from coaches, from players, and from everyone around you.
MyEliteNetwork: Tell us about your singing career, and include what it felt like to sing the National Anthem in full pads at Lambeau Field in 2014.
Esera: I started singing when I was five years old. My mom and my dad taught me a song called “God Bless my Daddy,” and it was kind of like my job to perform for all our guests that came over. It was one of those things where, as a little kid, you’re sort of shy and embarrassed, and you don’t want to sing, but sometimes I was forced to sing. But I’m glad that my parents did that because it helped me a lot in the future.
It was my rookie year when I sang the National Anthem in front of 100,000 people for the Green Bay Packers in the stadium with my pads on. And let me tell you, it was such an honor to do that. The network, at that time, asked me if I wanted to sing the National Anthem. I told them that I needed to ask the team, and also ask the coach, if it was possible, and if we could do it. They all said, “yes!”
I was not at all nervous about singing the National Anthem in front of 100,000 people. What I was nervous about was singing the Anthem in front of my idol, Mike Singletary, who was padded up on the other sideline. The Packers were playing the Bears that day so I was more worried about Mike listening to me sing, and then playing in the game against him. It was a little nerve-wracking at first, but as soon as I got that first note out, it was smooth sailing. I think the surprise element for everyone was seeing a 6’4”, 300-pound Samoan football player, and no one expecting a voice like that to come out of him. It was pretty fun.
MyEliteNetwork: Share the mission of the Hate Is Wrong website.
Esera: Hate in any form’s mission is to foster diversity in sports and anti-bullying among youths. It carries this purpose in two ways: first, we help deliver inclusion- based education in colleges and corporations around the United States, and secondly, we’re hosting the first ever NFL Super Bowl Inclusion Party this year.
It started a long time ago when I came out in 2002 and began speaking against hate. And being a part of the LGBT community, I became an advocate for the LGBT community; there were a lot of things I needed to learn about the LGBT community, and what we went through as a community. Because being in the closet, you don’t really understand; everything that is sort of gay you run from. In college, I was afraid to type in the word “gay” on my computer because I thought it would circle around, and somebody would find out that I was gay.
So, when I came out in 2002, it opened up a whole new world to me. The fear of the unknown was something I lived with before I came out, and when I did come out, I learned everything about who I was as an individual and my community, and I took pride in that. Now, let me just put this out there. Being gay doesn’t define who I am. It only defines to whom I give my heart. So ever since I came out in 2002, I started speaking against hate, and I knew that hate in any form is wrong. I’ve traveled around the country speaking on homophobia in sports but also leading anti-bullying programs as well. So my mission evolved into something greater than who I was, and people started noticing the saying, “hate in any form is wrong.” The purpose is to eliminate hate in our society, and especially with youths around bullying.
MyEliteNetwork: Tell us about the Super Bowl Inclusion Party. I know you’ve spent a lot of time lately working on that event.
Esera: All these years of raking in money for other organizations, and non-profits, I decided to turn “hate in any form is wrong” into “Hate Is Wrong,” my non-profit. For the inauguration of Hate is Wrong we are throwing the first ever NFL Super Bowl Inclusion Party in Minneapolis on Wednesday, January 31st at 7 pm at The Pourhouse, located at 10 S 5th St, Minneapolis, MN 55402. Ticket prices are on the Super Bowl Inclusion Party website.
The reason for the Party is not just to foster diversity in inclusion, especially within the NFL and the LGBT community, but as a society as a whole. The NFL has never hosted anything like this, so I thought it was imperative to use the platform to get my message out and to help people. It is also a fundraiser; we are raising money for “Hate Is Wrong,” but also for the Pacer Organization, a national anti-bullying organization based out of Minneapolis. Another recipient of the Inclusion Party is Avenues. Avenues is a homeless shelter in Minneapolis, and they’re amazing. Avenues run homeless shelters for the LGBT community, but they also have transgender rooms, which is very important. For that reason, I’m very excited to work with them.
I’ve created the Super Bowl Inclusion Party because of my brothers and sisters who are professional athletes in the closet. I’ve made it a mission to try to foster diversity between professional sports and the LGBT community, and to make sure they know they’re supported, and also to try to create a world where the LGBT community can feel comfortable speaking up, and coming out, and living their truth. I was on the Ellen Show, and we talked about this issue. Ellen agreed, “We have to do more stuff like this. People need to come out and live in their truth, professional athletes. Just to show that it’s possible and how incredible it is.”
When you’re an athlete, especially a professional athlete, or anyone who’s living in the closet, you live with the fear of the unknown. You live your entire life in the closet, not having the support of your friends or your family, and knowing that you could lose them just by telling the truth. That’s why we’re throwing the Inclusion Party. It’s for my brothers in the NFL, still in the closet, who have reached out to me. Even collegiate athletes or high school athletes. We want to build a better support system for them.
MyEliteNetwork: With all that said, how do you see your non-profit changing lives? Can you tell a couple of specific stories of changed lives because of your mission?
Esera: Well, every single day of my life; even yesterday, waiting in line to get in to watch the U.S. Figure Skating Competition. People tapping me on the shoulder and thanking me for the things I have done, and that’s how I know my work with “hate in any form is wrong” is getting out there for people to hear. A mom approached me to say, “thank you so much for making it easier for my son to come out.” A figure skater told me, “thank you for blazing the trail for us to be able to come out, to put yourself out there in front of people so they can see what we look like as a whole, as a community.” That’s how I know. People are coming up to me at airports, restaurants; everywhere.
I did a show in Minneapolis at the Dakota Jazz Club, and a woman in the crowd was crying so loud it was very noticeable; some people thought she was rude, but she couldn’t hold it in. After my performance, I went outside, and she followed me, and her sister came with her. She didn’t know I was going to be performing that night, and her sister surprised her by bringing her to my show. The woman kept thanking me for what I was doing and writing my book because her son was a football player who had come out because he had seen her reading my book. Her son told her, “If you didn’t read and practice that book, mom, I would have committed suicide.” So it’s stories like that I get every single day of my life. Sometimes I get tired like everyone else, and I feel like I just want to take some time off, hibernate a little bit, but every single time I feel that way, someone always comes up to me and tells me a story, and it energizes me to continue the work, full force.
MyEliteNetwork: Regarding anti-bullying, do you focus more on the bullying of LGBT kids, or is the focus on general anti-bullying of kids?
Esera: General anti-bullying, because every life matters. Every single life matters! The big question I get a lot from kids is, “Why does a 6’4”, 300-pound Samoan, go around talking about bullying?” I answer that question in my book, Alone in the Trenches, because I thought it was vital to address. The bullying I experienced came differently. I was molested. I know how it feels to have that fear, to feel neglected, not to feel worthy, and to feel like nothing. That’s why I speak. That’s why I don’t want any child, or anyone, to feel that way because it’s not a good feeling. That’s my backstory of why I do everything I do with Hate is Wrong. For the longest time, I thought it was my fault. Anyone else who has been molested, please know that you were robbed of your innocence, and it is not your fault. For the longest time, I thought it was my fault because I didn’t say anything. But when you’re six or seven-years-old, you’re just a child, and you don’t know how to speak up for yourself.
MyEliteNetwork: What are some ways people can support Hate is Wrong?
Esera: If people want to support “Hate Is Wrong” and our mission, we sell t-shirts with “Hate in Any Form is Wrong” printed on them. You can go to the website, hateiswrong.org to purchase a t-shirt, show your support, and wear it with pride. But also, if people want to know more about the first ever NFL Super Bowl Inclusion Party, they can go on hateiswrong.org/inclusionparty to buy tickets and to find out more information. I would love to have the support of everyone there to make it an incredible event.
Also, this is not just a one-time event. The Super Bowl Inclusion Party is going to be at every single Super Bowl from here on out. The goal is to raise money for non-profits in each Super Bowl state and for that reason, I have the backing of the NFL, the NFL legends, and the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee because they understand the importance of the mission.
One of the most exciting things is that Adidas is now sponsoring the NFL Super Bowl Inclusion Party. As you know, Adidas is an amazing company. Their whole campaign has been striving toward inclusion and diversity. When they sign athletes to Adidas, their focus is on inclusion and diversity; they genuinely want to make the world a better place. That’s why I’m so happy to have a partnership with Adidas, and hopefully we can foster this relationship so they can sponsor every single Super Bowl Inclusion Party.
MyEliteNetwork: You had to be excited when that news came.
Esera: Oh my gosh, yes! Another thing is that we have the original cast of Blake’s, Season 13, coming to sing at the Inclusion Party. Keisha Renee, Red Marlow, Anna Catherine DeHart, Rebecca Brunner, Adam Cunningham, Mitchell Lee, Natalie Stovall, Dennis Drummond, and Ryan Scripps. I think I’m missing a few people, but I will be singing as well. We’re going to put on a phenomenal show.
MyEliteNetwork: That is very exciting, and I’m sure more things will come out as it gets closer to the event date.
Esera: There’s going to be a big push for the Inclusion Party so I thank you for doing this interview because the more we get the word out, the more exposure it will receive. iHeartRadio is giving us some free sponsoring; we’re doing ads on their radio station in Minneapolis. Rugby Athletics has also jumped on board to be a part of the event; it’s going to be a lot of fun.
MyEliteNetwork: Tell us again how people can find out more information about the “Hate Is Wrong” website.
Esera: People can go to www.hateiswrong.org and Super Bowl Inclusion Party.
Author: Michelle Hill
Interview conducted by Michelle Hill, Your Legacy Builder, at Winning Proof. Michelle is a sports ghostwriter, book collaborator, and author. She works exclusively with pro athletes, coaches, team owners, and other sports professionals, to march their book idea from concept to publication, from the Red Zone to the End Zone. You have a story to tell! Contact Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org or (714) 797.3731. You can also visit the Winning Proof website at www.winningproof.com