The announcement today by former Patriots and Chiefs offensive lineman Ryan O'Callaghan that he is gay brings to seven the number of NFL known gay players in NFL history who have played in a regular season game. None have ever come out while active.
In addition, four other players who came out as gay were in NFL training camps, some playing in preseason games.
Dave Kopay, a running back for nine years with the 49ers, Lions, Packers and Redskins, was the first player to come out when he did a newspaper interview in 1975 after retiring. Kopay, whose autobiography reached the New York Times bestsellers list, will turn 75 next week and lives in Los Angeles.
Kopay played with two teammates who were gay: tight end Jerry Smith and running back Ray McDonald. Both men died from complications of AIDS and neither ever publicly discussed their sexual orientation.
Smith is the most accomplished player on the list. He was a two-time Pro Bowl selection, was named one of the 80 greatest Redskins and is included in the team’s Ring of Fame. He finished his career with 5,496 receiving yards and 60 touchdowns.
The most publicized out player was Michael Sam, whose story became national news when he came out in 2014 prior to the NFL Draft. Sam was drafted by the-then St. Louis Rams and played in all four preseason games prior to being released. He is now out of football.
The 11 men who were at least in an NFL training camp are barely a blip statistically among the thousands of men who have played in the league’s history and shows the stigma that is still attached to coming out.
Gay players have long been in the NFL. Legendary Packers and Redskins coach Vince Lombardi — who had an openly gay brother — knew that some of his players were gay. In the Outsports article on O’Callaghan coming out, longtime NFL executive Scott Pioli says he has counseled gay NFL players before.
Here is the list of players who have come out:
Played in a regular season game
Ray McDonald (1967-68): Running back
Ryan O'Callaghan (2006-2011): Offensive lineman with the Patriots and Chiefs.
Attended training camp