Esera Tuaolo, openly gay former NFL player, cooking at Seven Sushi tonight

Esera Tuaolo, openly gay former NFL player, cooking at Seven Sushi tonight
Esera Tuaolo is one of four NFL players to come out after retirement.

Former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo will be working behind the grill at Seven Sushi Ultralounge and Skybar in Minneapolis tonight, cooking up dishes from his native Hawaii.

Now a celebrity chef and singer, Tuaolo is also one of only four NFL players to come out as gay after retirement. We interviewed him for this week's cover story, "Game Changer," about Vikings punter Chris Kluwe's aggressive stance as a defender of gay rights.

In our interview, Tuaolo told us he believes Kluwe is literally preventing kids from committing suicide.

See also: : Game Changer: Chris Kluwe is opening America's last closet: Major league sports. Chris Kluwe geeks out

"As role models, we're in the job of saving lives. Period," says Tuaolo. "There's these kids out there committing suicide because they're getting bullied, beaten up because they're gay. For what he did, believe me. He has saved so many lives."

Though he didn't come out until later in life, Tuaolo has always known he was gay, he says. "I believe that I was born this way. I knew since I was a little kid that I was gay."

But growing up in a masculine culture, he felt he had to keep his sexuality a secret.

When he joined the NFL in 1991, the environment was incredibly harsh toward gay people. By this point, only one retired football player -- David Kopay -- had publicly come out.

"There were crossroads where I wanted to take my life and commit suicide, because we were living in a place of hate," he says. "There were a lot of times where I wish I would have quit football. But I was good at it. You know, I come from a very poor family, so the means of me going to college and stuff were nothing."

But Tuaolo thinks attitudes toward homosexuality in the NFL are changing, and he predicts in the next three years we'll see the first active player come out publicly. He attributes no small part of that to Kluwe's letter.

"For me, it was very emotional, because hey, here's this straight guy with a wonderful wife and two beautiful kids," says Tuaolo. "And hes going up to bat for the GLBT nation. That takes a lot of balls, especially in the NFL."

For more info on tonight's event, check out Seven Sushi's website.

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Seven Sushi Ultralounge and Skybar

700 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403


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