Everyone should be so lucky as to have a boss like Scott Pioli.
People in this town mostly remember the former Kansas City Chiefs general manager as a gruff, paranoid force on the field. He was fired in January 2013, embattled and likely embittered after immense professional and personal hardship. He had led the team though its 2-14 season in 2012 — the worst in franchise history. And on Dec. 1, he was among the Chiefs personnel pleading in the Arrowhead Stadium parking lot with linebacker Jovan Belcher to put down the gun he was holding to his own head. Belcher had just killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and he fatally shot himself as police approached.
But a different side of Pioli emerged last week through another player’s story that had a happier ending. Former Chiefs tackle Ryan O’Callaghan spoke to the website Outsports about the intense personal torment he suffered during his career. The Redding, Calif., native had donned the uber-masculine football pads during high school as armor to shield him from the secret he could admit only to himself: He’s gay.
“If you’re a gay kid and you hear someone you love say ‘fag,’ it makes you think that in their eyes, you’re just a fag too,” he told Outsports.
After the Chiefs placed him on the injured reserve list in 2011, O’Callaghan developed a Vicodin habit. He eventually won that battle, but he couldn’t clear the emotional cloud hanging over his head.
He decided he owed it to Pioli, whom he’d also played for with the New England Patriots, to level with him about the problem that was driving him to make concrete plans to commit suicide.
“I’m gay,” O’Callaghan told Pioli.
It’s difficult to imagine the relief O’Callaghan must have felt in that moment of acceptance and affirmation. Coming out to friends and family can be tough enough. Could it be a career-ender in the NFL?
The troubling truth is that Missouri and Kansas laws still offer no recourse for employees fired simply for their sexual orientation. The same goes for 26 other states. An April 4 decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals may extend such protections nationwide, but it has yet to see its first challenge outside the district.
Yet the verdict in the court of public opinion is an overwhelming yea. That whole “equality for all” thing is a big hit in the USA. So why do our lawmakers keep dropping the ball?
Screwing up the courage to be honest about being gay can seem overwhelming to many — even 6-foot-7-inch, 330-pound NFL tackles. No American should have to worry about it leading to the unemployment line.