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

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Ryan O’Callaghan had been publicly out for only a few months after he had been requested to contribute to’Note to self’on one of the greatest morning TV shows of America.
Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Joe Biden and Kermit the Frog are only a few of the famous names to have showcased in past incidents, writing and voicing personal letters of guidance of themselves.
O’Callaghan connects instantly. He played with 50 games to the Kansas City Chiefs and your New England Patriots, however there isn’t any talk of glory . Only the ability is a blessing in itself. When CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King wrote her foreword of’ Note to Self’ letters for a print edition, she mentioned O’Callaghan especially. “It’s not simple to select a favorite, but I keep coming back to Ryan’s letter over and over. No one would ever look at that burly, tobacco-chewing NFL lineman and suspect that he felt alone and broken and so ashamed of being gay he’d even started planning his suicide.”
O’Callaghan says his self-worth was as low as might be “if you’re gay, you’re as good as dead,” he recalls thinking at his career summit in 2006 and 2007, the year the Patriots went undefeated in the regular season – which makes it difficult to equate that anguished, closeted soccer player from ten years or so ago with the assured, optimistic figure of now. As a storyteller expectations readily shatter, although he is not inscrutable. It is one of the reasons why he felt pressured to compose’My Life On The Line’, his autobiography released.
“I have had the ability to change a lot of remarks,” he tells Sky Sports, talking out of his home state of California. On the cover of the book, a perspiration O’Callaghan stands in a helpless Pats jersey, a 6ft 7inright tackle apparently constructed to shield quarterbacks – the archetypal macho man, but one having a careful look at his eyes. From the memoir, he explains the origins of the fear which gripped him how he was propelled by his physicality into soccer, why he held his closet door shut, and what saved him if the spiral struck.
Composed with Cyd Zeigler, ” the author and co-founder of the influential LGBTQ sports website Outsports, the book begins with O’Callaghan outlining the roots of his anxieties – the everyday homophobia and hypermasculine culture that abounded as he climbed up in conservative Redding, over 200 kilometers north of gay-friendly San Francisco. He determined that his secret must never be found out by his family or he’d be a colossal disappointment, so disowned by people nearest to him. He lays out a play-by-play of his own approach to hide in the sight of soccer, creating suspense but also hope during his honest and at times heart-breaking reflections on the price tag of self-avoidance with the reader.
He truly knows himself, O’Callaghan is able to spell out where some of the problems lie for a good deal of bisexual and gay men. “One man told me that I am the most palatable homosexual man they have ever met. That’s far from an suitable point to say – where he’s coming out of, but I understand.
“If it takes someone meeting a man like me, who takes himself in a certain way, to kind of open their eyes, then that is fine. But I’d like to find out that guys like me, who are big and masculine, also have it simple in the world. There is a whole lot of couples who can not walk down the street with their boyfriend holding hands without even becoming something screamed out of a car. It might take somebody with a lot of courage and, very honestly, stupidity to mouth me off like that.”
O’Callaghan’s physicality was a part of his protection. At the University of Californiahe spent his time”keeping up appearances” – putting on unnecessary weight, wearing the baggiest clothes he could find, trying to repel women while his buddies and team-mates hunted out their company. Nevertheless the part of the disguise was the sport. “Soccer was my cover to being homosexual,” he says. “A lot of folks do things to hide that, such as dating a girl – but I only have zero fascination with girls whatsoever. I don’t have. I can’t figure it out for the life span of me”
He names that chapter’The Beard’ – slang for something that provides a cloak of heterosexuality. “I wasn’t sure enough that I’d do a great enough job deceiving a woman I was straight. I believed that would blow my cover, so that is why I chose soccer.”
By suggesting that camouflage like his is not unusual in the NFL today O’Callaghan generated headlines. “There is a very significant chance that one guy on each team is either gay or bi. I left that comment with just a small understanding because I have had guys. But basic statistics will state that too.” He’s unsure if it just makes for an eye-catching headline, or if the majority of soccer fans are surprised by that. “Everyone responds differently, but there are still a great deal of individuals who do not understand that gay people are available in all shapes, sizes, kinds… not everybody’s a stereotype. Actually most gay guys are not exactly the stereotype.”
His own commitment to conformity, or what was considered to be’normal’ (“the following word I am not a major fan of”), nearly broke O’Callaghan. A severe shoulder injury forced him to miss the 2008 year and having already made a pact with himself, his desire to remain in the NFL became an issue of life and passing. Back in 2009, he joined the Chiefs and having started handling pain with pot back into his Cal days – that he writes of “it dulled a lot of the pains and aches… it made my entire body feel great in ways the Vicodin just disguised” – he knew he had been running the danger of discovery by the drug walkers. They got him. Not long after, he sustained a partially torn groin in the training camp and became dependent.
Patriots legend Rob Gronkowski has talked in favour of relaxing the NFL principles on CBD and weed petroleum jelly. But even though 11 US countries have legalised marijuana for recreational and health functions, O’Callaghan isn’t anticipating change to come shortly. “They are in a difficult spot when it comes to cannabis usage, despite the fact that there are some countries where there are teams where it’s legal.
“The NFL can do what they desire, but it could be hard for them to just say’yes, even if you play to get a California or Colorado staff, or whoever else where it is legal, you can smoke bud’. You attempt to have policies that are blanket round the whole league if this might entice some guys to settle on a team over the other simply because they can smoke marijuana as who knows?
“It’s no secret that a lot of athletes smoke marijuana. But to do it and possess it? I think that’s still a while off, and will have to be directly linked to federal laws.”
O’Callaghan became hooked on the NFL narcotics. “I’m taking an absurd amount of painkillers, as much as 30 pills of various strengths,” he records in the book. He worries footballers could possibly be going down a similar road. “There’s still the same pressure to be able to exercise, and play on Sundays. Management is on the lookout for someone who’s a little bit more affordable, or even younger, and in case you are not playing and practicing, you don’t have much value.
“So men are going to do what they have to do. I don’t know whether the quantity of painkillers that they prescribe has changed or not since I played, but I think realistically I can state that guys are still getting prescribed what they want or desire.”
The results of O’Callaghan’s dependency were invoices running to thousands of bucks (he hardly saved any money for his retirement, as he didn’t expect to be about to spend it) and the exacerbation of his complicated mental health problems. But he admits to an inkling of interest in NASCAR, he has no NFL fire because it was only ever a means to an end; athletics in hold appeal for him. Yet he keeps the commitment shown by its celebrities, and great esteem for soccer, what it takes to be a successful team.
Gronkowski, who retired March having won other accolades and three Super Bowl rings, is just one such player. “He is a tremendous athlete,” says O’Callaghan, that left New England annually before Gronkowski was drafted. “I am familiar with the injuries he has had to deal with, the concussions and whatever else.” He’s sympathy overly for Andrew Luck, who stop the Indianapolis Colts in August mentioning the cycle of rehabilitation and accidents. Luck is younger than’Gronk’, and O’Callaghan was a era when his career ended. “I can’t blame someone for wanting to have the ability to play together with their children when they’re 50 years old. It’s not a move at all to look out for yourself. You’ve got to, as nobody else will.”
O’Callaghan has found his voice through discovering his own sense of self and the NFL is still now listening. Commissioner Roger Goodell asked him advice on how to best support closeted players, and O’Callaghan is encouraged by the response. “You can’t go and tap on these players on the trunk, so that I explained how being visibly supportive helps – and at the past two decades, the NFL have experienced floats in the New York Pride parade. They sponsored the parade itself this year, and in addition to the floatthey had me on the NFL Network to actually speak about it to their fans. In earlier times they’ve only done things quietly and under the radar. But now they’re doing more in the eye, and that is only likely to help.”
He is also hugely grateful to the Patriots multi-billionaire owner Robert Kraft, who’s given”a generous donation” to the new Ryan O’Callaghan Foundation that will offer scholarships and mentorship to LGBT+ students, mostly athletes. O’Callaghan says each dollar brought in from’My Life On The Line’, personal appearances and addresses will go in the finance, but it will take more than money to create a culture in. “You can not simply write a check and say decent luck. I would rather have a few folks that we really see, join with, and mentor – to assist them along the way – instead of just financially.” He admires the work of the Play Project found at the NHL in 2012.
The morning talk shows and other media chances have given a platform also to reach other people and to inspire young athletes to O’Callaghan. He’s also been invited onto networks to explore agent Ryan Russell coming out as bisexual. He’s wise to the assortment of opinions and responses to anything regarding novelty in athletics; he mentions that there was an assortment of views around the time of Luck’s retirement along with the quarterback’s reasons for stopping. “Fans aren’t necessarily considering the player as a person. They’ve got to realise that we’re all humans and everyone’s going through something.”
O’Callaghan considers nothing short of a loved one telling him’it is OK to be gay’ would have been enough to prevent him and also for everything else that went with this particular adventure to be avoided by him. Nevertheless, if people are simply indifferent, does that have an impact? “Well, there’s the’who cares’ Answer like,’who cares, we love you either way’. But then there’s the”who cares, it is not a major deal, I do not care about your own personal life’ response.
“For all those individuals, they’re the ones it’s more important to achieve because they can learn something about the battle for equality which still exists”
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