Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, May 12, 1999

N F L _F O O T B A L L

Isle players
shocked at Tuinei
drug revelation

Jesse Sapolu, whose career
paralleled Tuinei's, was
hit especially hard

By Pat Bigold


Jesse Sapolu said last night he didn't want to believe that his close friend, Mark Tuinei, died from mixing heroin and the hallucinogen Ecstasy.

"Mark always tested clean in the NFL," said Sapolu, who shares the Hawaii record for NFL longevity (15 years) with Tuinei.

Sapolu, who flies in today for tomorrow's memorial service and Friday's burial, said he's turned down television interviews because it's taking him so long to absorb the fact that the local man whose career paralleled his is gone.

"Mark leaves a huge void in my life," said Sapolu.

"We came into the league at the same time and left at the same time. I was an 11th-round draft pick and he was an undrafted free agent. We both made it the hard way but we have seven Super Bowl rings between us."

Though Sapolu could not understand what led Tuinei to his deadly drug experiment last Wednesday night, he said he can empathize with what he had endured since leaving the NFL after the 1997 season.

"You can't imagine how tough it is to adjust to life without football after you've played as long as Mark and I did," said Sapolu. "I literally woke up in a cold sweat one night last July because my body wanted to go to war. It's hard getting used to a normal life after doing nothing else."

He said it's an issue he'd like to spend time discussing with other longtime NFL players.

Sapolu also said that drugs are available everywhere in the NFL, and that drug dealers prey on players. He said he suspects someone "took advantage" of Tuinei's easygoing nature and lured him into the fatal experimentation.

Asked yesterday for his reaction to the news of Tuinei's drug abuse, Punahou head football coach Kale Ane said, "That's something just as shocking as his death."

Ane, who had hired Tuinei to coach the Buffanblus' offensive line, said he did not know that the Punahou alumnus had been involved with drugs. A medical examiner's report indicated Tuinei had made heavy use of Ecstasy in the two weeks prior to his death.

Ane said he plans to talk about the Tuinei tragedy with his coaches and players before the start of spring football next week.

Tuinei had a history of trouble with the law, but Sapolu and other NFL colleagues say they never heard a discouraging word about Tuinei throughout his NFL career.

New Orleans Saints defensive lineman Pio Sagapolutele was a Tuinei friend and fan.

"The fact that he was Mark Tuinei, I didn't want to believe he was taking anything," said Sagapolutele, now the senior active Hawaii player in the NFL (eight seasons).

"I hate to say it, but it kind of tarnished the image," he said. "Now people will be saying, 'Well, he took drugs.' But you don't want to think about that. You want to think about the good things that he did."

Sagapolutele said he estimates up to half of NFL players have used drugs of some kind during their careers. He said drugs are readily available to NFL players, whose incomes make them affordable.

"But everybody is a man up here, and everybody knows the consequences of drug use," he said.

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