NFL football player Esera Tuaolo, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, and Green Bay Packers during his nine-year career, stars in this commercial for Chili's as part of its "Tastemonials" campaign.
Tuaolo retired in 1999 and came out of the closet in October 2002 -- making him one of the first openly gay athletes to appear in a national commercial.
The ad, which only introduces him as "Esera, Retired Athlete," shows him singing and playing a ukelele while wearing a tight black T-shirt that reveals a tatoo on his huge bicep. He soulfully sings about Chili's as they introduce the Hawaiian Steak.
The story, now thoroughly covered in the media, goes that the ad agency GSD&M cast Tuaolo before it knew he was an NFL star, let alone one who had famously come out of the closet.
Tuaolo, it turns out, has sung the National Anthem at more sporting events than Whitney Houston, has a commercial CD titled, “One Man’s Island,” and a half dozen theatrical performances under his belt. It was during an audition for one of those theatrical productions that he first heard about the Chili’s promotion. Someone told Tuaolo that Chili’s was looking for a Hawaiian person to use for their upcoming commercial. (Tuaolo grew up in Hawaii but is actually Samoan.)
The agency allegedly cast him and shot the ad before learning who he was, but then things went ahead as planned.
"We do not consider this a celebrity campaign," Chili's spokesman Louis Adams told The St. Paul Pioneer Press
. "He may be known because he happens to be a retired athlete, but for us, in the context of this commercial, he's not a celebrity. He's Esera, a Hawaiian who has a talent for singing and playing the ukulele. When you're casting for a Hawaiian steak commercial, he pretty much fits the bill."
Other spots in the campaign include African-American tap dancers singing about boneless buffalo wings, and a California teacher singing about the ribs.
"We're not here trying to make any kind of political statement whatsoever," Adams said. "The only statement we're trying to make is that our restaurants have a fun, casual atmosphere and we serve great food."
Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of OutSports.com
. noted to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel
, "Here's this guy who didn't really make a name for himself as an NFL player until he came out of the closet. The fact that he can just be a `retired athlete' after all of that says so much about how corporations look at gay people and gay athletes."