If Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden had addressed his years-old anti-LGBTQ+, racist, and misogynist emails and explained if he’s changed since then, it would have been welcome, says gay former NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan.
“The majority of those emails were a decade ago, and I’m the type of person that believes in growth,” O’Callaghan, who came out after retiring, said Wednesday on CBS Mornings. “People change, and I wanted to hear specific things that he has learned over the past decade. Why his language was offensive. You know, having Carl Nassib, the first openly gay player, on the team. Maybe that changed his perspective about LGBTQ players.”
But Gruden simply resigned Monday, after news of the emails surfaced. “The only thing I can believe is that he hasn’t grown,” O’Callaghan told hosts Gayle King, Anthony Mason, and Tony Dokoupil.
O’Callaghan, who had been an offensive tackle with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, came out in 2017, six years after injuries ended his career. He had dealt with homophobia all his life, and he became addicted to painkillers both because of the injuries and because of the emotional pain associated with shame about being gay. He even considered suicide, but he eventually accepted his identity with the help of a supportive therapist. He has written a memoir and set up a foundation to provide scholarships to LGBTQ+ student athletes.
On CBS Mornings, he said he heard homophobic slurs mostly while he was in school, not in the NFL, but he still didn’t feel comfortable coming out. He said the NFL has become supportive of LGBTQ+ people in recent years. For Gruden, who did stand behind Nassib when he came out, to have said offensive things about so many groups of people and not say he’s evolved, to keep his job wouldn’t have been a good look for a more accepting NFL, O’Callaghan said. It might not have saved Gruden’s job, but it would have shown his growth as a person, he added.
If Gruden had owned up to his statements “and then talked about how he learned from them and how he’s not that person anymore, I’d be more sympathetic,” O’Callaghan said.
In a follow-up with The Advocate, O’Callaghan said, “I feel like these emails are part of a time capsule. Of course, there are still individuals with strong negative opinions of LGBTQ people, but I feel homophobia, for the most part, is generational. It usually takes something humanizing, like a close relative coming out, to cause a change of heart.”
He said he didn’t think the news of Gruden's emails will deter other players from coming out. “If anything, the backlash and consequences Gruden faced because of the emails will make closeted players feel even more supported,” O’Callaghan told The Advocate.
Additional reporting by John Casey.