. “My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me, and Ended Up Saving My Life” by Ryan O’Callaghan— The Struggle

O’ Callaghan, Ryan and Cyd Ziegler. “My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me, and Ended Up Saving My Life”, Edge of Sports,  2019.

The Struggle

Amos Lassen

In this country, LGBTQ athletes face varying degrees of acceptance. Ryan O’Callaghan, a former offensive tackle for the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs, shares his struggle as a closeted gay man in the very masculine world of professional football and his story is about love and acceptance, honesty and truth, integrity and hope. O’Callaghan could have kept his sexuality to himself but instead he offers us all of himself in these pages. By his doing this, he will change lives, save lives, and continue to forge path ahead so that it will be much smoother for those who bravely follow in his footsteps.”

 O’Callaghan details the fear and pain of a lifetime spent hiding who he really is. His story is “a suspenseful and cathartic look at a man on the edge, whose salvation could only come from admitting his truth and finding acceptance.” By doing so his story will change the lives of young men and women who are struggling to come out and with their sexuality and help those around them who may not know how they’re contributing to a loved one’s pain and silence. This is an intense book as it looks at the reality of life in the NFL and it is told with gripping honesty and courage.

We learn that O’Callaghan’s plan was always to play football and then, when his career was over, kill himself. He grew up in a politically conservative corner of California and the messages he heard as a young man from his family and from TV and film claimed that being gay was a disease. He could not tell people his darkest secret. Under the surface of Ryan’s entire NFL career was a collision course between his secret sexuality and his hidden drug use. When the league caught him smoking pot, he turned to NFL-sanctioned prescription painkillers that quickly sent his life into a tailspin. As he suffered more injuries, his daily iuse of opioids reached a near-lethal level and he wrote a suicide note to his parents and planned his death.

A member of the Chiefs organization stepped in, seeing the signs of drug addiction. O’Callaghan reluctantly sought psychological help, and it was there that he revealed his lifelong secret for the very first time. He was already nearing the twilight of his career when he faced the ultimate decision: “end it all, or find out if his family and football friends could ever accept a gay man in their lives.”

O’Callaghan  spent a lot of time cultivating a self-accepting identity that he spent so much time trying to escape. He didn’t fit the gay stereotypes, but O’Callaghan had spent a lot of time cultivating a self-accepting identity that he spent so much time trying to escape. 

O’Callaghan knew that his life would change forever when he made the trip to Los Angeles was about to sit on a bench with one camera in front of him, and one behind, and publicly tell the story that for years he struggled with privately.

Sitting in front of those cameras, telling an account that would be broadcast to millions unnerved him. He said in an interview, “My reasons for wanting to do this have always been the same… to help people in my position. Hopefully someone could relate to my story.”

 “I waited so long, because I don’t think you go, in my case, 29 years, not planning on living, not accepting living as a gay man. You don’t go from everything I did to normal and ready to speak and be an example overnight. I had to work on me. It took a while.”

The significance of O’Callaghan’s story can be seen in its unique nature among professional male athletes. On its own, it is an inspiring story of a man who used football to mask his identity. A story of a man who planned to kill himself following his career, but  who accepted help when higher-ups in the Chiefs organization offered it. 

There’s a slow yet continuous trend of more acceptance of homosexuality in the athletic world yet O’Callaghan’s story was courageous. It showed that the Chiefs’ handling of the situation should be the norm, not an anomaly and it also served as a reminder that players coming out is still extremely rare.

 “I spent my whole life trying to avoid the spotlight,” O’Callaghan says. “Football was a great place to hide. Now I don’t have 50 other guys to hide behind. I realized this was going to get some attention. That’s the point. Get the word out there, spread awareness, make people feel accepted. They’ve got to know. I’m fine with that. I’m ready.”

 “I had to learn how to love myself,’’ he said. “I’m not looking to be a sloppy straight guy anymore.’’

 “Life’s great now,’’ he said.