The story of Aaron Hernandez, a troubled NFL star-turned-convicted-killer, has been examined time and time again, as people speculate what could have led to the downfall of a pro athlete who seemingly had it all. The latest is “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez,” Netflix’s new docu-series detailing the life and crimes of the late Hernandez. In the new show, the rumors about Hernandez's sexuality and how it may have contributed to his inner turmoil are discussed by several people who knew him and some who did not, including an openly gay former NFL player named Ryan O'Callaghan.
So who is O'Callaghan, and why is his perspective important for the series?
As the show dived into the whispers surrounding Hernandez’s sexuality, former New England Patriots player O'Callaghan spoke about his own experience with professional football and sexuality.
He explained that football became his “beard," aka a way to cover up being gay.
“Because in general, football is a very masculine sport and I relied on all the stereotypes of a football player,” he admitted in the docu-series. “Just, a lot of testosterone and aggresiveness and hitting each other, all these things that you would assume middle America wouldn’t think of a gay man.”
While he didn’t personally know Hernandez, the docu-series did speculate on rumors that Hernandez, like O’Callaghan, may have been concealing his true sexuality while playing professional football. Dennis SanSoucie, who played football with Hernandez in high school, claimed in the series that he and Hernandez had “an on-and-off relationship from the 7th grade to the junior year of high school.”
“I don’t know how much he [Hernadnez] genuinely loved football or if he did what I did and used it as a cover and relied on people’s ignorance not to think that a a guy who plays football could be gay,” O’Callaghan told Oxygen.com. “So I don’t know what route he took but the NFL is a great place for a closeted person to hide. And really, sports are in general.”
O’Callaghan played college football in Berkeley, California during the early 2000s. He was then drafted by the New England Patriots in 2006 as an offensive tackle. He played for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2009 to 2011, and has since retired from playing football.
Despite his extremely successful sports career, O’Callaghan admitted to Oxygen.com that he was never even into football and that it was all a mask to hide his true self. His family is from San Francisco and they were big 49er fans, so that’s how football got on his radar.
“I never loved football... I never played PeeWee growing up,” he reflected to Oxygen.com. “I didn’t play until high school and I didn't want to play but it was one of those things where I was a big kid and it just made sense for me to play. I ended up being pretty good at it and I soon realized it was a great place to hide [my sexuality] so I just kept doing it.”
He faked loving football all the way up to to the NFL.
"It’s hard for people to believe,” he said, with a chuckle. “I was serious about staying closeted.”
When he did come out in 2017, much to O’Callaghan’s relief, the response was all positive.
“I got thousands of emails,” he reflected to Oxygen.com. “I was expecting some bigoted comments but I didn’t get a single one.”
He did note that when he was younger, he heard some ignorant comments being made in the locker room but by the time he made it to the NFL, he didn’t hear any.
“The NFL is a workplace, it’s like an office,” he said. “ I didn't hear that kind of stuff out of the teammates. They’re one of the most accepting programs there is.”
O'Callaghan added that the NFL sponsored a float in New York City’s Pride parade for the past two years.
While he noted that the NFL still hasn't had an active player who has come out, he told Oxygen.com, “It’s only a matter of time.” In the meantime, he said that the NFL has been working on making the league more comfortable for players who could be LBGTQ.
“They are generally open-minded,” he said. “They want to help, they do care, they will be implementing some more things hopefully in the future.”
He said he has been participating in meetings with the league to assist with that progress. Beside that, O’Callaghan has kept busy with other pursuits to help those struggling with sexual identity: He authored a 2019 book about coming out called "My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me and Ended Up Saving My Life," and he created a scholarship to help support LGBTQ youth.
And for more on the Hernandez case, watch Oxygen's "Aaron Hernandez: Uncovered."
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