Esera Tuaolo, gay former Viking, blasts Kill's quick dismissal of Barker slur allegation

Tuaolo believes Kill was too quick to dismiss the allegation that an asst. coach called a player a gay slur.
Tuaolo believes Kill was too quick to dismiss the allegation that an asst. coach called a player a gay slur.
Photo: Courtesy Esera Tuaolo.

By now, you've probably heard of A.J. Barker, the Minnesota Gophers wide receiver who quit the team abruptly last weekend, heaving a hornets nest in head coach Jerry Kill's lap on his way out.

The most troubling allegation in Barker's Tumblr manifesto/resignation letter comes around word 2,200, in a passing reference to an assistant coach calling him a "faggot" because of his "spiritual views."

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The U of M athletics department tells us they're looking into the accusation. An email from spokesman Garry Bowman:

Director of Athletics Norwood Teague takes all allegations of this nature seriously. In this situation with Coach Kill, he has spoken to Coach and others and will continue to review how things were handled. As to the other allegation regarding the use of a slur, he is in the process of reviewing those facts as well.

But Kill was quick to dismiss it entirely at a press conference Monday -- a little too quick for Esera Tuaolo, a former Vikings defensive tackle and one of four NFL players to come out as gay after retirement.

"Listening to [Kill] speak kind of irritates me," says Tuoalo. "If anything, the response should be, 'Let's get this out on the table, and let's see really what happened. Because our number-one receiver just quit'."

In his nine years in the NFL, Tuaolo felt he had no choice but to remain closeted, and endured a miserable career in locker rooms where gay slurs were the norm. It was enough to make him contemplate suicide.

But since he came out in 2002, Tuaolo believes the locker room culture has taken a dramatic leap toward tolerance, as we reported in our November cover story, "Game Changer." So when Tuaolo heard the allegation that a member of the Gophers coaching staff had called a player a gay slur, he was furious.

"When I was going through [the NFL], that was a part of the language in the locker room," he says. "If something like that was said, then it can't be tolerated anymore. We're living in a different time."

Tuaolo can't know if the allegation is true, but he's frustrated with Kill's swift denial.

"I'm not thrilled at all," he says. "The way it was handled, in terms of that part of it, it's kind of like it was just brushed under the rug."

Tuaolo plans to offer his services as a speaker to the Gophers football team. If the allegation does turn out to be true, Tuaolo says he hopes the U will try to make some changes.

"Let's change the system, let's change the way we coach," he says. "Because you never know, what you're saying might hurt another player. They might quit, or they might fucking commit suicide."

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