There are “plenty of closeted NFL players” according to former New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan, who publicly came out as gay in 2017.
O’Callaghan (above, wearing number 68), who played in the NFL from 2006 to 2011, told Reuters he hears from current closeted professional football players on a regular basis.
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“I think it’s safe to say there’s at least one on every team who is either gay or bisexual,” he said. “A lot of guys still see it as potentially having a negative impact on their career.”
He thinks most are worried they could lose sponsorships and possibly even their spot on a team. He added that contract guarantees might help, but said he doesn’t think anything will really change until a high profile player who is still in the league comes out.
While a handful of individuals have come out after their playing days came to an end, like O’Callaghan, and though Michael Sam became the first openly gay person drafted by an NFL team, the league has yet to have an openly gay or bisexual athlete play a down in a regular season game.
Sam was cut before the start of the regular season and went on to play for the Montreal Alouettes, making him the first openly gay player in the Canadian Football League. He retired in 2015.
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O’Callaghan struggled with depression, suicidal thoughts, and an addiction to painkillers, which he was helped through by a Chiefs’ psychologist. That same psychologist also helped him find the strength to come out to his family.
“I just don’t think people understand the reality,” he said. “We can still get fired for being gay or denied services for being trans.”
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O’Callaghan during his playing days with the Kansas City Chiefs.
His upcoming book, My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me and Ended Up Saving My Life, available September 3, outlines his struggles and his journey through them to the self-acceptance he has since been able to discover within himself. Proceeds will go towards supporting the Ryan O’Callaghan Foundation, which he set up to provide scholarships and mentorship to young LGBTQ athletes.
“You have to explain to [them], ’You’re going to run into some ignorant people, but you’ve got to have faith that they’ll catch up to the rest of the world and understand you are who you are,’” he said.