Former American football offensive tackle Ryan O'Callaghan discusses his powerful memoir, My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me and Ended Up Saving My Life. This event is co-sponsored by the non-profit You Can Play, You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Ryan O'Callaghan's plan was always to play football and then, when his career was over, kill himself. Growing up in a politically conservative corner of California, the not-so-subtle messages he heard as a young man from his family and from TV and film routinely equated being gay with disease and death. Letting people in on the darkest secret he kept buried inside was not an option: better death with a secret than life as a gay man. As a kid, Ryan never envisioned just how far his football career would take him. He was recruited by the University of California, Berkeley, where he spent five seasons, playing alongside his friend Aaron Rodgers. Then it was on to the NFL for stints with the almost-undefeated New England Patriots and the often-defeated Kansas City Chiefs.
Bubbling 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 injuries mounted and his daily intake of opioids reached a near-lethal level, he wrote his suicide note to his parents and plotted his death.
Yet someone had been watching. A member of the Chiefs organization stepped in, recognizing the signs of drug addiction. Ryan reluctantly sought psychological help, and it was there that he revealed his lifelong secret for the very first time. Nearing the twilight of his career, Ryan 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.
Let’s talk about sports. Everyone’s a Monday morning quarterback, and who doesn’t like the exciting last few seconds of a race – the point at which someone is going to win. The You Can Play Project is about playing a game – any game – and winning. Winning because athletes are allowed to be all the things our parents taught us to be growing up. Honest. Dedicated to achieving goals. Hard working and full of competitive spirit.
It’s tough to be those things when a player is keeping a secret. Teams get better results, and athletes are better, when they can be honest and open about who they are. That includes athletes who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer.
It’s time to talk about sports and it’s time for us to create change. It’s one of the last bastions of society where discrimination and slurs are tolerated. It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s an assumption in sports that gay and lesbian players are shunned by all athletes. It’s just not true and You Can Play is dedicated to providing positive messages from athletes, coaches and fans. The biggest names in sports, the smallest high school teams, and the most casual fans are coming forward to let athletes and fans alike know that LGBTQ players are welcome on their teams, in their locker rooms and in the stands. If you have skill, if you have work ethic, if you can skate, pass, shoot, run, jump, hit, row or play – then you can play.
You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
You Can Play works to guarantee that athletes are given a fair opportunity to compete, judged by other athletes and fans alike, and only by what they contribute to the sport or their team’s success.
You Can Play seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive spirit.