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Wednesday, October 30, 2002
Macho Culture

By By Sean Salisbury


I'm happy for my former Vikings teammate. It sounds like Esera Tuaolo has lifted a burden from himself. I can't imagine how it must have felt to carry that around. His preference and beliefs are different from mine, but being different doesn't make someone evil. You hear the gay rumor a million times about various players, and it's usually wrong. My reaction when I hear it is, So what?

Esera Tuaolo
When Tuaolo took the field, he was all business -- and that's all that should ever matter.
There are people in the league who have that homophobic attitude, saying, "I could never play with anyone who's gay." It's the macho culture: In football, you're never supposed to cry, you're not supposed to be sensitive, you can't be friends with someone who's gay.

My advice: Get over it. You've probably been playing with someone who's gay. If you think there aren't other gay players, you're crazy. And it takes a lot more of a man to do what Esera has done than it does to threaten someone for being different.

I was a teammate of Esera's for three years, and I can tell you he was always professional, always worked hard; he never disrespected the team or the locker room. Privately, some guys wondered if he might be gay. But it didn't matter, because he was a great guy. He was respected.

Would it have been difficult for him to come out while playing? Yeah, probably. There is a big problem with ignorance in the NFL. And I'm not sure the league has any idea how to deal with it. One step they could take: At their rookie orientations and symposiums, this might be a topic they'll have to cover. It's not going to be easy.

But not every player feels the same way. I've talked to some players who could accept an openly gay player on their team. It would work better if it was a superstar -- the league leader in sacks or the quarterback who threw the most touchdowns. If you perform at that level, even people who disagree with you will accept you. In a way, that's a sad commentary.

I've often said that you don't have to like your head coach, or your owner, or all of your teammates. There are so many different cultures and religions and personalities in a locker room. But if they respect you, if they respect the game, you have to respect them. Even if they're different.

This story appears in the November 11 issue of ESPN The Magazine.