How Ryan O’Callaghan’s story of being gay in the NFL is helping to smash stereotypes

Ryan O’Callaghan was out for only a couple months when he was requested to bring about’Note to self’, a section on one of America morning TV shows.
Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Joe Biden and Kermit the Frog are simply a couple of the famous names to have featured in past episodes, writing and voicing letters of guidance to smaller versions of themselves.
Speaking straight to camera, O’Callaghan connects immediately. As a lineman, he played over 50 games for the Kansas City Chiefs and your New England Patriots, however, there isn’t any talk of glory times. Only the ability is a boon in itself. When her foreword was written by CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King to get a print version of’Note to Self’ letters, O’Callaghan was said by her especially. “It is not simple to choose a favourite, but I still keep coming back into Ryan’s letter over and over. No one would ever consider that burly, tobacco-chewing NFL lineman and suspect he felt broken and alone and so ashamed of being gay that he’d even started planning his suicide.”
O’Callaghan says his self-worth was as low as could be -“if you’re gay, you are as good as dead,” he remembers considering his profession summit in 2006 and 2007, the year the Patriots went undefeated in the regular year – making it hard to equate that anguished, closeted soccer player from a decade or so ago with all the assured, optimistic figure of now. As a storyteller , expectations readily shatter, although he is not inscrutable. It’s among the reasons why he felt pressured to compose’My Life On The Line’, his autobiography released this week.
“I’ve had the ability to alter a good deal of remarks,” he tells Sky Sports, talking out of his home country of California. On the book’s cover, a sweating O’Callaghan stands at a muddy Pats jersey, a 7inright tackle apparently constructed to guard quarterbacks – one with a careful look at his eyes, although the archetypal macho guy. From the memoir, he describes the roots of the panic which gripped him as a boyhow his physicality propelled him into soccer, why he even also held his closet door so tightly shut, and what saved him if the downhill spiral struck.
Written with Cyd Zeigler, ” the writer and co-founder of this influential LGBTQ sports site Outsports, the book begins with O’Callaghan outlining the origins of his fears – the everyday homophobia and hypermasculine civilization that abounded because he grew up in conservative Redding, over 200 kilometers north of gay-friendly San Francisco. He decided that his family members must never find out his secret or he would be a disappointment, even disowned by people nearest to him. He lays out a play-by-play of his approach to hide in the sight of soccer, creating hope but also suspense during his at times and honest heart-breaking reflections on the spirit-crushing cost of self-avoidance.
That he truly knows himself, O’Callaghan can spell out where a number of the issues lie in surroundings like team sports for a whole good deal of guys. “One guy told me that I am the most palatable homosexual man they have ever met. Now that’s far from an appropriate thing to say – but I know where he’s coming from.
“When it takes someone meeting with a guy like me, who carries himself in a particular way, to kind of open up their eyes, then that’s fine. But I’d also like to find out that guys like me, who are masculine and large, also have it somewhat simple in the world. There is a great deal of couples that can’t walk down the road with their boyfriend holding hands without even getting something screamed from a car. It might take someone with a lot of courage and, very frankly, stupidity to mouth off to me like that.”
O’Callaghan’s physicality was a part of his protection. In the University of Californiahe spent his time”keeping up appearances” – putting on unnecessary weight, sporting the baggiest clothes he can find, attempting to repel girls while his pals and team-mates sought their company. Nevertheless the part of the disguise was that the sport. “Soccer was my cover for being gay,” he says. “Lots of people do things to hide this, just like dating a girl – but I only have zero fascination with women at all. I don’t have. I can’t figure it out for the life of me”
He names that chapter’The Beard’ . “I was not convinced enough that I’d do a good enough job deceiving a girl that I was straight. I believed that would blow my cover, so that is why I chose football.”
Following one interview, added headlines were generated by O’Callaghan simply by suggesting that camouflage such as his isn’t uncommon in the NFL today. “There is a very large likelihood that at least one man on each team is either gay or bi. That comment was left by me with just a small expertise, simply because I have had guys. But basic statistics will say that also.” He’s unsure if it merely makes for an eye catching headline, or whether the majority of soccer fans are surprised by that. “Everybody responds differently, but there are still a great deal of people who don’t understand that gay people are available in all sizes, shapes, forms… not everyone’s a stereotype. Really most gay guys aren’t the stereotype.”
His own devotion to conformity, or what had been perceived to be’normal’ (“the following word I’m not a major fan of”), nearly broke O’Callaghan. A significant shoulder injury forced him to miss the whole 2008 year and having made a pact with himself, his desire turned into an issue of life and passing. Back in 2009, he joined the Chiefs and using started handling pain with marijuana back in his Cal days – he writes of the way”it dulled a lot of the aches and pains… it made my entire body feel better in a way the Vicodin simply disguised” – he knew he had been running the risk of discovery by the drug walkers. They got him. Not long later, he became dependent and continued a groin.
Patriots legend Rob Gronkowski has talked in favour of relaxing the NFL rules on weed and CBD petroleum. But even though 11 US countries have legalised marijuana for health and recreational functions, O’Callaghan is not expecting change to come. “They are in a tough spot in regards to cannabis use, in spite of the fact that there are a few countries where there are groups where it’s legal.
“The NFL could do exactly what they want, but it might be hard for them to just say’yes, if you play to get a California or Colorado group, or whomever else where it is legal, you can smoke bud’. You try to have policies which are blanket across the whole league because who knows if this might entice some guys to pick a group over another as they can smoke weed?
“It is no secret that a lot of athletes smoke bud. But to do it legally and have it? I think that’s still some time off, and might need to be directly linked to federal laws.”
O’Callaghan became hooked on the NFL’s accepted narcotics. “I’m carrying an absurd quantity of painkillers, as much as 30 pills of various advantages,” he records in the book. Seven years after, he fears footballers could be heading down a similar road. “There’s still the identical strain to be able to exercise, and perform on Sundays. Management is on the lookout for somebody who’s even younger, or a bit cheaper, and in case you’re not practicing and playing, you do not have value.
“So guys are going to do exactly what they need to do. I don’t know whether the amount of painkillers they urge has changed or not since I playedbut I guess realistically I can state that men are still getting prescribed what they want or desire.”
The outcomes of O’Callaghan’s addiction were bills running to thousands of dollars (he hardly saved any money for his retirement, as he did not expect to be about to spend it) and the exacerbation of his complicated mental health problems. Unsurprisingly, he has no NFL fire because it was only ever a means to an end; athletics generally hold limited appeal because of him, but he admits to an inkling of interest in NASCAR. Yet he retains great respect for soccer, what it takes to be a team that is successful, and also the devotion shown by its celebrities.
Gronkowski, who retired March having won several other accolades along with three Super Bowl rings, is one such player. “He’s a tremendous athlete,” says O’Callaghan, who left New England the year before Gronkowski has been hailed. “I am knowledgeable about the injuries he has had to cope with, the concussions and whatever else.” He has sympathy for Andrew Luck, that suddenly quit the Indianapolis Colts mentioning the punishing cycle of injuries and rehabilitation. Luck is just half a year older than’Gronk’, and O’Callaghan was a comparable era after his pro career ended. “I can’t blame someone for wanting to have the ability to play together with their children when they are 50 years old. It’s not a move whatsoever to consider yourself. You’ve got to, because nobody else is going to.”
O’Callaghan has also found his voice, through discovering his sense of self and that the NFL is currently now listening. He was asked by commissioner Roger Goodell for advice on how to service players that were closeted, also the response encourages O’Callaghan. “You can not go and just tap these players around the shoulder, so I explained how being visibly supportive helps – and in the last two years, the NFL have had floats at the New York Pride parade. They sponsored the parade itself , this season, and also in addition to the float and that they had me on the NFL Network to talk about it to their lovers. In the past, they have just done things quietly and beneath the radar. But today they are doing more in the public eye, and that is only going to help.”
He is also hugely grateful to the Patriots multi-billionaire owner Robert Kraft, who has given”a generous donation” to the new Ryan O’Callaghan Foundation that will provide scholarships and mentorship into LGBT+ students, chiefly athletes. O’Callaghan says every dollar earned from’My Life On The Line’, speeches and appearances will go in the fund, but it will take more than cash to create a culture in. “You can’t just write a check and say good luck. I’d rather have a couple people that we really watch, link up with, and mentor – to assist them along the way – instead of merely financially.” He simplifies the job of the You Can Play Project, first launched at the NHL where each team has a participant ambassador to direct on inclusion, and might love to see more cooperation in the LGBT sports activism sector in general.
The morning chat shows and other media opportunities have contributed a stage also to reach others and to inspire LGBTQ athletes to O’Callaghan. He’s also been invited onto networks to discuss absolutely free agent Ryan Russell coming out as bisexual. He’s prudent to the broad assortment of reactions and opinions he mentions that there was also an assortment of perspectives around the quarterback’s motives for quitting along with the time of Luck’s retirement. “Fans aren’t necessarily thinking of this participant as a person. They have got to realise that we’re all people and everyone’s going through something”
O’Callaghan thinks nothing short of a loved one telling him’it’s OK to be homosexual’ could have been enough to prevent him and for him to prevent everything else that went with this adventure. But when people are indifferent, does that have an effect? “Well, there is the’who cares’ Response such as,’who cares, we love you way’. But then there is the”who cares, it’s not a huge deal, I don’t care about your private life’ response.
“For those people, they are the ones it is more important to reach since they can find something about the battle for equality which still exists”
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