Being Out is a feature that looks at LGBTQ people in sports who have come out since Outsports first published in 1999. Today: Football player T.J. Callan.
T.J. Callan knows what it’s like to feel alone as a gay athlete and wants to make sure others don’t feel the same.
Callan has talked at length about the isolation and bigotry he felt while a running back at the University of Miami while trying to navigate the team and his coaches as a gay man who had not come out to his teammates. He was out at his Miami-area high school and was accepted, but from the start in college he regularly heard anti-gay slurs and experienced an environment of hostility.
“I can still remember every single person who said something to me,” he said last year. “It was traumatizing at the time. I would get devastated. Like when your heart just drops and you get cold, that’s how I’d feel every time someone talked shit about gay people, because it felt like they were saying it about me.”
Callan graduated from Miami in 2020 and is now in a masters of higher education program at Florida State. His career goal is to work with college student-athletes, especially those who identify as LGBTQ, in the hopes that they will have a better experience than he did.
Here are Callan’s answers to our Being Out questions:
What do you love the most about football?
My favorite part of being on a football team centers around the bonds that are formed with your teammates. These are powerful relationships that grow on and off the field. We spend a lot of time practicing and talking sports, which allows us to get to know one another and build the trust needed to go out and compete together for a common goal.
Another component that I love about football is challenging yourself and getting better every day — trying to perfect your craft, seeing progress and testing your skills on the field with your teammates. There is no better feeling than charging onto the field after a long week of hard work and watching the fruits of your labor come to fruition.
What does it personally mean to you to be LGBTQ+ in sports?
To me being an LGBTQ+ athlete means defying the odds. It means challenging the preconceived notions that people have placed upon me. It means working hard to be visible so that others who are just like me know that they have a space in their respective sports, no matter what their orientation is.
It means proving that LGBTQ+ members are present in sports, that we have always been in sports, and will continue to be in sports. We are here to stay.
What advice would you give to LGBTQ+ kids in athletics or who want to participate in athletics, the kind of advice the younger you wish you had heard?
As a gay football player, I felt like I didn’t have anyone that could relate to my specific situation. When I was younger I would have wanted to know there are people out there that you can reach out to. I would have wanted to know that I was not alone, that there are people fighting the same battles.
My advice to LGBTQ+ athletes is to believe in yourself. Do not doubt what you can do or that you can contribute to your sport. You belong here just as much as everyone else. You are valid and you can do it!
I did not have anyone that I could talk to about what I was experiencing as a student athlete but I want to change that in the future. I want to be an advocate and support athletes who may be going through the same exact thing I did while in college. You are not alone. I am here as a resource. Do not doubt yourself. You CAN do it!
Who is someone that inspires you? Why?
My high school football coach at Ronald Reagan High, Coach John Lopez, is someone who has made a huge impact in my life. He was the one who coached me up in football and believed in me.
Looking back, Coach Lopez did so much more than a typical football coach. I remember all of the times he would speak to the team always emphasizing the importance of having good character, excelling in academics, respecting yourself and others, leading with integrity, being honesty and developing a work ethic.
Coach Lopez embodied all of these amazing traits and values and tried to instill them in his players as well. I truly believe he had a huge role in accepting who I was as not only an athlete but as a person. I will forever be grateful that I was able to be coached by John Lopez. I continue to practice and live by all of the lessons that Coach Lopez, as well as my parents, instilled in me.
What are you passionate about right now?
What I am passionate about right now is getting my degree in higher education and making sure I have a chance to work with student athletes, especially LGBTQ+ identifying students and support them as best as I can.
I want to take my experience and pay it forward by making sure student athletes do not have to face many of the challenges that I encountered while playing collegiate sports. My goals are to want to help create equitable, inclusive and brave spaces for the students I come into contact with. Wherever I end up, I want to make sure I make my students feel safe and ensure that they have someone looking out for them when they feel alone.
What is your most memorable sports moment?
One of my most memorable moments in sports would have to be back in my Little League days. My dad was the coach and I was playing in the all-star game back in 2006. I was probably 9 years old. We were tied in the last inning and I was up to bat against one of the toughest pitchers in our division.
When I got to the plate, I got a walk-off hit for the win. My teammate ran from third to home and all I remember was feeling the contact of the ball on my bat, sprinting as fast as I could to first base, my immediate instinct after touching first was making a beeline to my dad who was coaching on third base. I jumped into his arms and the crowd went absolutely wild.
Whenever I played in any sporting event, I could expect my mom, dad and sister to be there cheering and supporting me from the stands. Whether it was in Little League baseball, high school football and track and field or even in college football, I always had my family on my side. I am forever grateful for having a supportive family.
T.J. Callan graduated from the University of Miami and is now attending Florida State University as a masters student in the higher education program. He played football at Miami. He can be reached on Instagram @tjthelamphead, or on Facebook.
If you are out in sports in any capacity as openly LGBTQ and want to be featured in Being Out, drop Jim an email (email@example.com).
If you’re an LGBTQ person in sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and other non-athletes in sports.