Mina Denny brings in two very special guests for the third episode of “Clear The Air” — former athletes Dylan Harris and Ryan O’Callaghan. Harris is a 2019 IU alumnus who is also a former brother of the Pike fraternity where he previously held the position of the mental health chair and captain of his Little 500 team. O’Callaghan played in the NFL for both the Patriots and the Chiefs as an offensive tackle.
Though Harris and O’Callaghan went on their own separate journeys as male athletes, they both went through them as closeted gay men. As both Harris and O’Callaghan now live their lives openly, they are able to speak on the inclusion and representation athletes within the LGBTQ+ community receive within sports and sports media through their own personal experiences.
“The only reason I played football to begin with was because I thought it was the best cover for being gay that there was,” O’Callaghan said when discussing how he planned to never come out to anyone ever.
Harris reinforces that there was a shared fear of coming out to anyone because he “didn’t know how they (fraternity brothers) were going to handle it. I didn’t know if they were going to look at me differently, if they were going to be mean to me, or if they wouldn’t care.”
Fortunately, when both men did eventually come out, the responses they received were overwhelmingly optimistic, even in the absence of positive representation of LGBTQ+ athletes in the media when growing up.
“I was almost in shock actually of how supportive they (fraternity brothers) were,” Harris said. “They made sure that I knew that they had my back the entire time.”
O’Callaghan feared coming out to his family the most, as he grew up in a very conservative household.
“One of my biggest allies was my mom,” O’Callaghan said when speaking on the concept of allyship. “Growing up, I never expected that support system, but you quickly learn once you start coming out to people how accepting they all are.”
The number of out-athletes in the sports community today is constantly growing and providing further hope for the next generation of closeted athletes. Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop recently made history as the first active player under contract to an NHL team to come out, along with Carl Nassib, the first active NFL to do so as well.
O’Callaghan has his own organization, “The Ryan O’Callaghan Foundation,” promoting more encouraging representation and pragmatic solutions for LGBTQ+ athletes who still fear the unknown when coming to terms with their true identity.
People in today’s society are finally beginning to see more openness and normalization for athletes in the LGBTQ+ community, and Harris and O’Callaghan are thrilled to be witnesses and contribute to the change.
Clear The Air: How LGBTQ+ Athletes are Making History with Dylan Harris and Ryan O’Callaghan