Being gay in the NFL: Ryan O’Callaghan shares his story to Peter King

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Ryan O’Callaghan • Former lineman for the Patriots and Chiefs • Photographed in Napa, Calif.

O’Callaghan played 51 NFL games from 2006 to 2010. He came out as gay in 2017. In his book, My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me and Ended Up Saving My Life” (Akashic Books), written with Cyd Ziegler, O’Callaghan details a football life that veered into heavy opioid use. He says he planned to kill himself after his career ended. His story is detailed in the book, and in “The Peter King Podcast” out this week.

“I chose football as a cover for my sexuality. Football was my beard. No one would ever think a macho football player could be gay. It worked for quite a long time. I never had long-term plans. I hated myself. I was absolutely miserable. My friends didn’t know who I was.

“My whole plan was to play football and kill myself. I was convinced from a young age that my family would never love me if they knew who I really was. The things you hear as a child—every time you hear someone say ‘faggot’ or talk bad about a gay guy, or see something on TV and make fun of that. If you have a closeted kid, he hears every one of those times you say something. It sticks with him. This was 25 years ago. Most of the things they said were out of ignorance, not hate.”

A psychiatrist convinced O’Callaghan that, as long as he planned to kill himself, why not tell those he was closest to before he committed suicide, just to see what their reaction was, and to see if he was right about them. At 29, he came out to his family.

“So I hadn’t really been speaking to my parents in the months leading up to it, because in my mind I was pushing them away to make it easier on them when I killed myself. So I called them. I said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna stop by. We need to talk.’ We all sat down in the family room. I broke down, and I ended up telling ‘em, ‘This is what’s going on: I’m gay.’

“It was quiet for a second. Then my mom got up, gave me a hug. She had a look of relief on her face. Turns out she thought I was gonna tell them I was terminally ill, because I was like, Hey, we need to talk. She was almost relieved. My dad at the time was quiet. It took him a little while to come around. Looking back, I might have expected him to be okay with it quicker than he was, but he spent 29 years picturing his son as something that he wasn’t. So, of course, he’s not gonna be totally on board overnight. I’m happy to say we have a better relationship now than we ever have.

“Time went by. I ended up meeting someone. The first time I introduced my parents to someone I was dating was right before [induction] in the Shasta County [Calif.] Hall of Fame, and I was going to bring him. I did bring him. So we went by my parents house before, and I introduced him, and so after that night, my dad, the next day or a couple days later, he said, ‘Well, Brandon seemed nice.’ Since then, it’s been great. It went a thousand percent better than I ever imagined it would go.” 

Read more in Peter King’s Football Morning in America