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Interview: Former Cal Offensive Lineman Ryan O’Callaghan Speaks About His New Book and More

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An incredible person with an incredible story.

The Players’ Tribune Hosts Players’ Night Out 2017 Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for The Players’ Tribune

Former Cal and NFL offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan recently came out with a book titled My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me and Ended Up Saving My Life. In the book, he tells his personal story about his struggles with sexuality, addiction, and mental health. We were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to interview him about his book, his football career, his foundation, and much more. A transcript for the interview is included below.

CGB: What led to you choosing to attend and play football at Cal?

Ryan: “That’s kind of an easy answer. So, Berkeley was one of the first schools that reached out to me. I was playing up in Redding and my dad was officiating football and he started making his way up into the college ranks, and he officiated with a guy named Kevin Anderson. At the time, Kevin was, I believe, and assistant athletic director at Cal, so through that I went to the Cal football camp and immediately after that camp I got offered a scholarship, and I thought that committing and getting all that behind me would make it easy and be done with but all that did was make other schools go after me.”

CGB: Can you reflect a little bit on your time at Cal?

Ryan: “Yeah, I mean obviously I had a lot going on personally and in my mind and everything, but when I look back on my time at Cal, like I said excluding everything that was going on in my own head, it was good. I met some awesome people, you know, most of my best friends today are from Cal, and most of them still live in the Bay Area and I’m always happy to come visit. Berkeley was a lot of fun. Even with everything I had going on in my own head, I don’t regret at all going there.”

CGB: Once you got to the NFL, how did things change?

Ryan: “Well, the step from high school to college is a lot different from the step from college to the NFL. Once you get to the NFL, everyone is good. As the football competition level gets a lot higher and a lot more demanding, you realize very quickly that it’s a business. Now, obviously college football is a big business, we are learning that with recent legislation, but as a college athlete. you don’t have that mindset. Once you’re in the NFL, it becomes very clear very quickly. Really your whole life becomes football because you don’t have anything else to worry about.”

CGB: Chiefs trainer David Price and team psychologist Susan Wilson... what impact the help they gave have on you?

Ryan: “Yeah, I think this is a good time to speak on the subtitle of my book ‘How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me and Ended Up Saving My Life’, you know, it was everything with football, the injuries and drugs and all that that really sent me downhill, but it was professionals within the league like David Price that recognized something was going on and actually did something about it, and that’s the reason I’m here today. I’m forever grateful for David, unfortunately he passed away this past year, but I’m very confident that if it wasn’t for David recognizing the issue and making me go see Dr. Wilson, things would be a lot different today.”

CGB: Obviously you have an incredible story, but what inspired you to write this book?

Ryan: “Well, recently I came out publicly in June of 2017 with the intent of really reaching people who can relate to my story and also maybe people out there who don’t necessarily know and believe that gay people come in this shape and form and to really kind of help the stereotypes and when it came time to writing a book, it was a great opportunity to tell my whole story and to reach people who previously hadn’t heard of me. With that, it was also a great way to raise money for my charity. I am donating every penny that I get from the book directly to the Ryan O’Callaghan foundation, and from there I donate everything back into the LGBT community in the form of scholarships and support.”

CGB: Speaking of your foundation, can you speak on the creation of it and how much it meant to you to be able to create something to help people through struggles that are similar to what you had to go through?

Ryan: “Obviously when I came out publicly I was presented with a bunch of different opportunities and with that comes money and I didn’t feel comfortable profiting off of my sexuality. A lot of people do it and they can do it, it’s there right, but I figured it’d be better off giving back to the community. So, I started a charity in the hopes to help people. You know, there’s a lot of people out there, men and women, who love sports and they play sports but at some point they feel unwelcome because [of] their sexuality and they let certain things keep them from reaching their goals.”

I’ve read a lot of reviews on your book and they have all been overwhelmingly positive. Do you have any thoughts on this and what this means to you?

“Yeah, I mean obviously I was hoping it would be that positive. My story is a lot more than just a football story. I cover a lot of different things that happened in my life, from drug addiction to mental health, and I think there is just enough football sprinkled in there to appeal to those people too. I’m happy that people have enjoyed it and are getting something out of it and that they’re sharing it. It will only help, I think.”

Do you have any advice for people who may be in similar situations to the one you were in?

“Yeah, I hate to sound cliche, but people always say that it gets better and it will be alright, but that really is the truth. I built up being gay when I was closeted as this giant obstacle and this thing I didn’t think I could overcome, and I couldn’t be any more wrong about that and I’ve gotten nothing but support from people who love me [and have] reached out. I always tell guys it will just feel so much better when you can actually be yourself and be honest, and even if everyone is not supportive, there’s a whole community of people out there who will love you and take you for who you are.”

After the book, what is the next step for you in terms of furthering awareness?

“My next step in life is all surrounding my foundation, so it really depends on how well the book sells and the donations I get. I’d obviously like to take the foundation as far as I can, and thankfully I’ve had a lot of different schools reach out wanting me to speak out and same with companies. I obviously have physical issues with my body that are limiting so I’m just gonna do as much as I can for as long as I can.”