Gay Man in the NFL

02/23/2006 at 05:00 PM EST

Gay Man in the NFL
"I hope my story can inspire someone," says Tuaolo (at home proudly wearing traditional garb from Samoa).
M. Sharkey
Last September, Esera Tuaolo had an anxious moment. His twins, Mitchie and Michele, 4, needed a family photo for preschool, and Tuaolo wondered how their classmates in suburban Minneapolis would react to seeing them with him and his longtime partner, salon owner Mitchell Wherley. But not to worry: "The other kids said, 'You got two dads? Wow, I wish I had two dads,' " recalls Tuaolo, 37.

It was a leap of faith for a gay man who, for most of his life, had lived in the closet – never more so than in the nine anxious years he spent in the NFL. With the publication of
Alone in the Trenches, Tuaolo is now traveling the country, speaking out about his remarkable journey.

When I was 5, I heard a friend call another friend mahu. I asked what it meant. "Faggot," he told me in Samoan. Ooh, he likes boys, I thought, That's bad. Then I thought, Uh-oh.

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