Touchdown tomes

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Wednesday February 15, 2006
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Touchdown tomes

For those suffering from post-football withdrawal, three new books offer an in-depth look into the lives of two real former NFL players and one fanciful take on college romance.

In Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL (Sourcebooks, $24), Esera Tuaolo tells his life story (with writer John Rosengren) of transformation, from being an impoverished Samoan child in Hawaii to becoming a prominent nose guard who spent nearly ten years in the NFL.

Football fans, and those who seek a personal interpretation of the highs and lows of the game, will appreciate Tuaolo's in-depth descriptions of everything from training camps to the wild social lives of pro athletes.

Tuaolo also shares some wonderful experiences with his traditional Samoan upbringing, and his family's struggles and joys in Hawaii, where he grew up.

He also reveals the darker side of his usually cheerful demeanor, as he used hard-drinking pot-smoking phases in his life to cover the fear, panic, and conflict of living a lie. Every success is met with an equal worry.

Tuaolo also opens up about meeting his partner Mitchell, and how despite his resistance, their partnership had a certain inevitability. Family lives and personal lives come to a somewhat conflicted head at the 30th Super Bowl, when Tuaolo has to continue pretending Mitchell is merely a friend. His eventual coming out and the subsequent wave of media attention are also well documented. As a person of deep faith, he also provides some passionate responses to what he saw as the religious hypocrisy of Christian athletic groups that vilify gay people.

Football hasn't evolved very much in terms of gay tolerance, considering that Tuaolo only discovered the biography of David Kopay (the first NFL player to come out) when he was near suicide. And while Tuaolo managed his double life with gay affairs in Hawaii, for Roy Simmons, a life of excess nearly killed him.

Out of Bounds: My Life in and Out of the NFL Closet, tells the life story of Simmons, the former New York giants offensive lineman who became the first former NFL player to disclose his HIV-positive status.

Simmons's college and pro successes are told with candor, as is his secretive sexual life with men and his romances with women as well. His later spiral downward into drugs, alcohol, and sexual addictions, however, takes a sad turn. It's almost painful to vicariously journey through Simmons's life, one of momentary glory and fame, eventual poverty, and difficult recovery.

It's interesting to note the parallels in these two men's lives, as well as their differences. Both led dual lives, had harrowing struggles to overcome, and eventually kept strong ties to their families, which also endured tragedies. Despite having professional writers help them with their books, both books read with the unique voice of each athlete.

For Tuaolo, leaving the NFL led to a successful life with a partner and children, and as a singer and spokesman for gay rights. For Simmons, his struggle with addiction and his health concerns remain an issue. Both deal with sexual abuse from their childhood days, as well as personal conflicts that collide with the pressures of the NFL.

One question both Tuaolo and Simmons answer in their books, and which seems to be the common query among other media is, when will an male athlete come out while still playing in pro sports? While some women athletes in individual sports have had some success in dealing with this challenge, both autobiographies address the question for male athletes, the answer to which--based on their own struggles--seems to be, not for a while.

But what if it did happen? "What if" is a big theme in Randy Boyd's expansive fourth novel, Walt Loves the Bearcat (West Beach Books, $24.95)

Writer Marcus Coleman finds the nerve to call up a man he's never met, yet whom he thinks he should have known all his life, one Walter Yeager, former star quarterback. They end up meeting through another bit of happenstance, and over the course of a few meetings, Marcus reveals to Walter his secret fantasy story about the romance that could have happened back in the 1980s.

With Marcus as Bear, a cheerleader who happens to end up inside the bear costume of his school mascot, a furtive kiss caught on film threatens to push their secret into the public eye before it's even consummated.

Boyd employs a number of fanciful devices to draw the story within a story out, frequently breaking the past tense with conversations between the older characters, as well as some "cosmic" almost cartoonish interruptions and revelations. The tale is more than a mere jock romance, but a self-aware and expansive rumination on how stories can be told, why they are told, and how reality often interrupts its animated poetic idealism.

Fans of the exuberant spirit of the college football scene will appreciate Boyd's description of football games between the Georgia State Bulldogs and the UCLA Bruins. But those scenes are only part of the expansive story.

At over 700 pages, Boyd's epic tale may daunt light readers. But its lighthearted tone and keeps the pace going, and offers a warm spirited take on the college romance that could have, and should have been, and what may be. A long pass away from the painful realities of real gay football players, Boyd's expansive confection of existential characters reverberates with soulful queries into the nature of love and life.

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Bowled Over

More than 350 bowlers will participate in the Bud Light San Francisco International Golden Gate Classic & Scratch Masters Bowling Tournament, Friday, February 17 to Sunday February 19, at Serra Bowl, 3301 Juniper Serra Blvd. in Daly City (650) 992-3444.

This year's hospitality suite will be at the host hotel (Clarion SF Airport - 401 E. Millbrae Ave. in Millbrae). Saturday, Feb. 18 events will include a Pajama Party, so don't forget to bring your nighties! Host cocktail bar opens at 8 p.m., with an awards cocktail reception (5 p.m.) and dinner on Sunday (6 to 8 p.m.).

Pilsner Beer Bust

Help local athletes while meeting some new ones as well. Cheer SF will sponsor a beer benefit for Team San Francisco's Gay Games Chicago Travel Fund at the Pilsner Inn, 225 Church St. on February 18 from 4 to 7 p.m. (415) 621-7058.

LifeCycle Benefit

Come to Creamy GUI party benefitting the AIDS LifeCycle, sponsored by Distillery No. 209, and co-hosted by San Francisco Tsunami Water Polo team. Saturday Feb. 18, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., at the Soluna Lounge 272 McCallister at Larkin. Fashion show by Mila. DJ Chip McClure will spin tunes. $10 at the door.

Register Now

You've got about two months to register for Gay Games VII. To keep up on local events and deadlines email Sanford Smith at [email protected].

As registration for sports and cultural events fill up, many local teams are welcoming new and returning athletes of all skill levels. Be sure to visit the Team San Francisco Web site for contact information at

Going to Outgames? Visit for updates and registration info.

Got an upcoming event? Be sure to send info, two weeks in advance, to [email protected].