Football was Ryan O’Callaghan’s “beard.”
The former Patriots and Chiefs offensive lineman was a star in high school and at the University of California, but he acknowledges now, eight years after he took his last NFL snap, that he never had a passion for football. O’Callaghan used the sport and its hyper-masculine image to hide his deepest secret.
O’Callaghan played six seasons in the NFL as a closeted gay man.
The term “beard” in the gay community refers to a woman who goes on a date or even marries a gay man in an attempt to make him appear straight. O’Callaghan, a hulking 6 feet 7 inches, 330 pounds during his playing days, used football for that purpose. …
O’Callaghan grew up in a conservative Irish Catholic family that liked to shoot guns, hunt, drink beer, and make homophobic jokes at family functions. The anti-gay attitude O’Callaghan’s family showed forced him deeper into the closet.
“It was more the words that came out of their mouths, negatively, towards the gay community that stuck with me,” O’Callaghan said. “As a kid, kids hear the things their father says and their uncle says and that time in your life, you take it to heart.”…
When O’Callaghan came out publicly in June 2017, both former and current NFL players came out to him via social media and e-mails.
“People would be surprised who’s closeted,” O’Callaghan said. “Pro Bowlers and a lot of guys with families. You try to give them advice, everyone’s situation is different, but it’s hard to tell someone who’s that deeply closeted to get them to see the light, that it’ll be OK, especially if they have young kids.”…
“The past couple years, they’ve done more and more . . . American society is influenced so much by the NFL,” he said “It’s crazy. The NFL, if anything, will be changing their opinions.”
O’Callaghan is part of that change. And that change saved his life.