MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The burden of keeping his homosexuality secret drove Esera Tuaolo to comtemplate suicide late in his five-season tenure with the Minnesota Vikings.
Tuaolo, who played on the Vikings' defensive line from 1992-96, said he felt overwhelmed by the frustration of hearing gay jokes from teammates and his unwillingness to confront them.
"It hurt, and I started to feel shameful, and I slipped into a depression because of those jokes," said Tuaolo, who lives in suburban Minneapolis. "I wondered why I didn't say anything.
Tuaolo recently revealed his homosexuality on HBO's "Real Sports" because he was tired of leading a double life. The segment aired Tuesday night.
"It comes down to the quest of being happy and the quest of being with my family and not trying to hide everything," he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Tuesday. "I took off that costume when I did that interview, and I tell you what, I feel great."
Tuaolo is the first NFL player to publicly reveal his homosexuality since former New York Giants offensive tackle Roy Simmons in 1992.
"I don't think anything has changed. If anything, it's gotten maybe a little bit worse," he said. "When you read about David Kopay, he knew of other (gay players). In my case, I knew of no one. So I felt alone.
Kopay, an NFL running back in the 1960s and early '70s, became in 1975 the first pro athlete to reveal his homosexuality. He wrote a book about his experience as a gay athlete that was published in 1977.
"When I read that book, I saw myself looking into a mirror," Tuaolo said. "I saw myself going through all the stuff he went through. After I read that book, I decided I didn't want to live like that anymore.
"It was difficult throughout my whole life, not being who I wanted to be. It was difficult in my years in the NFL, and when I read that book, it was an eye-opener. That book basically saved my life."
Shortly thereafter, in 1997, Tuaolo met Mitchell Wherley, with whom he now raises 2-year-old twins in suburban Minneapolis.
After playing with Carolina in 1999, Tuaolo retired because of injuries. Since then, he has pursued a music career.
He said he did the HBO interview because he wanted to let go of his secret. "I'm very relieved," he said. "Now I can live in my truth."
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