Former NFL star Esera Tuaolo explains why he hopes his first ever Super Bowl Inclusion Party will change the game for LGBTQ acceptance in professional sports

Super Bowl LLII touches down on February 4th in Minneapolis, and whether you’re a Patriots or an Eagles fan (or you’re just excited to watch Justin Timberlake’s halftime show), there’s one new event happening this year that’s a “can’t miss” for LGBTQ football fans.

On Wednesday, January 31st, former NFL defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo will be throwing the first ever “Inclusion Party,” a first-of-its-kind event officially supported by the league, which will focus on diversity and inclusion and is setting out to support equality and acceptance in all professional sporting disciplines.

Esera, who played 10 seasons in the NFL, came out publicly in 2002, and also participated on Team Blake in this past fall’s season of NBC’s “The Voice,” will be joined by several of his fellow former singing show contestants, along with an array of additional celebrity guests.

The “Inclusion Party” will also raise money for a number of important local organizations. An online auction taking place through CharityBuzz will give fans a chance to win tickets to this year’s big game, along with an array of amazing additional items.

We caught up with Esera to chat about what his goals were for creating this event.

Esera Tuaolo

What experiences in your own life - both personally and professionally - have led you to become such an advocate for change in the LGBTQ movement?

As an out former NFL player for the Vikings, I experienced first-hand what it’s like to not feel included when all you want to be is yourself.  It is astonishing that in the history of the NFL only 7 players have publicly come out. These past few years we’ve seen great progress in this area but we still have a long way to go, and I think the time is right to make a positive statement! 

Why is this year the right time to be launching the ‘Inclusion Party’?

SO many reasons! I am so proud that the Super Bowl is being held in my current home state of Minnesota. It’s a state known for equality progress in the Midwest, especially as a blue state in the recent election. The timing for Equality in Sport is also prime with the upcoming Olympics in PyeongChang where a record number of out athletes will compete. And, now is an important time in general with our current political climate when we should be celebrating diversity more than ever. 

One of GLAAD’s goals is “Accelerating Acceptance” … How can an event like the ‘Inclusion Party’ act as a catalyst for changing people’s hearts and minds?

My hope is that the “Inclusion Party” will set an example for other professional sports as well. We have seen many players come out but it’s obviously not all of them. I believe that events like this lead by example and I hope young people will feel empowered by the message this event sends to the nation. 

How did your participation in The Voice last fall change you as an ambassador for LGBTQ rights?

The Voice was such an amazing experience - to be able to briefly tell my story on national television and hear others’ stories through their viewing. Getting the attention of such great advocates as Ellen DeGeneres, I realized that I’ve been given a unique opportunity to shed some light on this topic, and also that I am one of very many who has a similar story to tell.  It’s time to give them more platforms to do so! 

Esera Tuaolo on Season 13 of The Voice

Which other pro athletes have been allies and shown their support for this event? And were you at all surprised at their participation?

We have so much support, it’s been pleasantly overwhelming! The great Carl Eller, Ryan Hoag, Lindsay Knapp, Stanley McGlover, Ukee Dozier, Ross Verba, Ryan Harris, Stu Voigt, Asher Allen, Robert Kratch… the list goes on and on and we hope there will be many more confirming soon. We’re counting on a few special surprises too!

Which other partners and organizations have embraced the event and are working to help promote it?  

Esera the advocate First and foremost, having the support of the actual NFL and the Vikings Organization behind us is huge… and historic. And Adidas is such a wonderful brand for being our very first presenting sponsors. We are proud to be benefiting three great charities: The Hate In Any Form is Wrong Foundation, PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, and Avenues for Homeless Youth.  We’re also lucky to have promotional partners like GLAAD – you all do such a great job advancing these causes in all forms of media. Also, the Federation of Gay Games which is also all about Diversity and Inclusion in Sport and are holding their 10th Games in Paris this August. Other partners include 96.7 Twin Cities Pride Radio, iHeartRadio, who ran some great promo spots for us, as well as Metropolis Rugby Football Club and Rugby Athletic

What is your hope for this event’s future and also for the next generation of NFL players?

I hope that this event will become an annual tradition and grow in size and attention year after year! Our goal is to have “Inclusion Party” benefit new applicable local charities each year, based on where the Super Bowl is being held. For example, we can't wait to get going on “Inclusion Party: Atlanta” next year! If all goes well, we’ll have more and more out and proud NFL players hosting year after year. 

The first annual “Inclusion Party” takes place on Wednesday, January 31st, at 7 p.m. in Minneapolis.