Last week former NFL lineman Ryan O’Callaghan revealed on Outsports.com that he had planned to commit suicide after playing professional football, a result of living life as a closeted gay man. The piece, written by Cyd Ziegler, was a deeply honest and thoughtful account of O’Callaghan’s coming out story. Ziegler told SI.com last week that the response to the piece has been overwhelming and the story has become one of the five most read pieces since the site was founded in 1999. (Outsports is the leading sports website in the U.S. for the intersection of sports and LGBT issues.)
“We were part of the Michael Sam roll-out, and that was something we've never seen,” Ziegler said. “There was a story we published about 10 years ago about the NFL Store banning the word ‘gay’ and about 1,000 other words on their jerseys, and that got tons of attention. But my guess is as far as players, coaches, media members and execs in the NFL seeing it, this was the deepest reach we've ever had.”
I emailed Ziegler last week to get additional backstory information on how the piece came to be. He wanted to stress the support Vox Media and SB Nation gave the story including sending a crew (produced by Alex Hawley) to Los Angeles to film a video. He also praised Vox editors Elena Bergeron and Sarah Kogod for fine-tuning the piece.
SI.com: As specific as you can, how did you become aware of Ryan O’Callaghan's story and that he wanted to tell it publicly?
Ziegler: On May 17, as I was on a plane back from London, I got a Facebook friend request from a guy named Ryan O'Callaghan, with the profile pic of a guy in a Patriots uniform. As a lifelong Patriots fan I recognized the name, but we had no mutual friends so I thought it might be a hoax (we at Outsports have had people try to "out" their straight teammates as gay as a not-so-funny joke). As I started doing some Google searching on him, I got a Facebook message from him that said: "Hi Cyd, I would love to chat with you. I played six years in the NFL, retired in 2012, and I have felt the need for the longest time to speak up. I'm finally in a position to do so, and I hope by telling my story it will help others. I look forward to chatting in more detail. - Ryan O'Callaghan." We hopped on the phone the next day and charted a course to tell his story.
How long did the process take from your first conversation to the date you published?
Ziegler: I guess that was about five weeks. We had talked about publishing the story closer to training camp, but with June being Pride Month we moved it up, figuring it would be a great way to celebrate Pride for a lot of people in sports. Plus, with stories like this, you never know if the news will leak. Ryan had been living life openly in Redding, Calif., for years. He had told a couple people that he was looking to share his story publicly. Plus we had to tell a number of people at Vox Media and SB Nation about this so they could support it, which they did amazingly well. Thankfully everyone kept the story quiet until we hit "publish." At that point I think only about a dozen people in the world knew it was coming.
What kind of response have you received from other gay athletes (not out) who read Ryan's story and now might want their stories told publicly?
Ziegler: We get requests every day now from athletes who want to share their stories publicly, which is a big change from just a couple years ago. But Ryan has gotten the vast majority of messages from people. As I wrote today on Outsports, he's received over 5,000 emails with more coming in every hour. He has shared, anonymously of course, the stories of a couple athletes who have reached out. If anyone has a personal story they want to share with him, or with Outsports, they should definitely reach out. I know Ryan will eventually respond to everyone who contacts him with a personal story. It just might take a while.
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examine some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. Episode 125 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features Molly Solomon, the executive producer of Golf Channel and one of the highest ranking woman in the executive branch of sports media, and Doug Ferguson, who covers golf for the Associated Press and is likely the most read golf writer in America. In this podcast, Solomon discusses her role in running the Golf Channel; what she looks for in golf broadcast talent; the qualities a good sports producer must have; why there have not been more women in the highest management positions at sports networks; what it’s like working with a spouse who works in the same business (her husband, Geoff Russell, is the Executive Editor of the Golf Channel); her time as an Olympic researcher for NBC; why former NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol took a liking to her; what it was like working for the Washington Post sports section as a 20-something; why women’s golf has not getting traction in the States the way women’s tennis has; whether golfers-turned-broadcasters are similar or different compared to other athletes who have entered sports broadcasting and much more.
Ferguson explains his coverage philosophy; what the week of a Major is like for him; why the AP covers golf as much as it does; the pressure he feels on deadline; whether golf media are too chummy with their subjects; whether golf media is too rigid against bloggers and those interested in analytics; his analysis of the coverage of golf on television; whether Tiger Woods has been covered accurately, too easy, or too harsh; why we do not see more investigative pieces in golf; how changes to the PGA Tour schedule might impact golf media; how good the Pimento cheese sandwiches taste at Augusta and much more.
You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.
2. I’d wanted for some time to do a roundtable with openly gay sports media members and this seemed like an appropriate week to do it given the interest in the O’Callaghan story. (It’s also Pride month.) Below, are seven sports media members who agreed to share their thoughts. The panel:
• Steve Buckley, sports columnist, Boston Herald
• Chuck Culpepper, sports writer, Washington Post
• Dave Doyle, combat sports writer, MMAFighting.com and Yahoo Sports
• Christopher Hine, Blackhawks writer, Chicago Tribune
• Esther Lin, photographer, Showtime Boxing and MMAFighting.com
• Tony Paul, sports writer, Detroit News
• Kate Scott, play-by-play broadcaster, reporter and host for Pac-12 Network and play by play for NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California
3. Appearing on The Doomsday Podcast with Matt Mosley and Ed Werder, ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski said he has a contract with the network that runs through May 31 2022, but has no idea if ESPN will continue to use him on air. “I’m a guy in limbo right now,”Jaworski said. “But I do want to continue some broadcasting. I love what I do.” It was a strange comment that calls for some clarity. When asked for comment on Jaworski’s status, an ESPN spokesperson declined comment.
3a. On Sunday NFL Network analyst Ian Rapoport reported that the Chiefs have reached out to ESPN analyst Louis Riddick to set up an interview for next week for their now-vacant GM job. Riddick responded the Chiefs have not called him.
4. Non-sports pieces of note:
• Stunning work by Washington Post reporters Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous on the CIA capturing Putin’s specific instructions to defeat Clinton and help elect Trump. This is the most impactful news story I’ve read this year.
• From Wired’s Andy Greenberg: How An Entire Nation Became Russia's Test Lab for Cyberwar
• From Washington Post writer Geoff Edgers: The slow, secret death of the six-string electric. And why you should care
• Via The New Yorker’s Jiayang Fang
• Remarkable piece from a former CIA analyst: This is what foreign spies see when they read President Trump’s tweets
• Via The Daily Beast’s Jeff Maysh: The Millionaire Playboy Who Murdered His Way to the Top of Porn
• From the always excellent Highline staff at the Huffington Post: When the man who abuses you is also a cop
• Rolling Stone had an oral history of Prince’s Purple Rain tour
• Elegant piece by Mary Pols of the Portland Press Herald about the life and death of a Maine milk hauler
Sports pieces of note
• From SI’s Jon Wertheim: The First Wrigley Ocean Marathon
• ESPN has dedicated a section on its website to the Latino players in Major League Baseball
• From SB Nation’s Charlotte Wilder: I watched Knicks owner James Dolan play a blues concert on the night of the NBA draft
• Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski on the social media feed of the Vegas Golden Knights
• Via Lee Jenkins: Lonzo, the Lakers and an L.A. Dream Come True
• From Outsports: Why do so many people say “Who cares?” when a gay athlete comes out
5.Newsday’s Neil Best on interstation fighting between radio hosts at New York’s WFAN Radio
5a. Josh Ishoo, the senior manager of communications for the Pac 12 Networks, said that the networks have aired 2,015 total women's sports events since it’s launch in 2011, including 442 in 2016-17. Ishoo said more than 50% of live event broadcasts each year have been women's sporting events.
5b. Awful Announcing’s Andrew Bucholtz on the lawsuit filed against Deadspin and new owner Gizmodo Media Group over a June 2016 story on sports betting website Pregame.com founder R.J. Bell.
5c. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is partnering with VSiN (Vegas Stats & Information Network) for a Vegas Fantasy Football Experience on Aug. 11-12 at the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa. VSiN is the media company fronted by Brent Musburger.
5d. Given a shortage of former ESPNers on staff, FS1 announced it has signed Ray Lewis to work as an NFL contributor for several studio shows across FS1 and FOX Sports’ digital platforms in 2017.
5e. ESPN said the NBA Draft drew 3.555 million viewers, the second-most watched Draft ever on ESPN (they have aired it since 2003) and up 15 percent over last year (2.994 million viewers), which was the least-watched since 2012. This most-watched NBA Draft on ESPN came in 2015 when the production averaged 3.738 million viewers.
5f. Stephen A. Smith, by virtue of his contract, the talent agency that reps him (CAA), longtime upper management protection and his willingness to work in multiple platforms at ESPN (in-house producers love him), is now the most powerful on-air talent at ESPN, in my opinion. (I’d put Mike Greenberg second given his upcoming solo show and the double digit millions being invested in him, the staff for the new show, and the upcoming marketing campaign).
In wrestling terms, Smith is the face that runs the place at ESPN. So I can’t see any discipline for his comments on Lamar Odom if ESPN management had zero issues with Smith threatening Kevin Durant on air. There are Jordan Rules for some at ESPN and Smith is one of those in Bristol who gets Jordan Rules.
5g. The EPIX network will air documentaries on Danica Patrick and George Foreman this fall, with the Patrick documentary being executive produced and directed by Hannah Storm (Brainstormin Productions) and written by Aaron Cohen, a longtime writer for NBC Sports.
5h. Hard to tell here if The Ringer’s Mark Titus enjoyed the work of ESPN analyst Michael Wilbon the NBA draft.
5i. I’m interested to see the viewer response for the Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn fight airing live from Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia on ESPN, ESPN Deportes (and streaming live on the ESPN app) on July 1. It’s the first time a Pacquiao fight will air live on basic cable and it’s his first non-pay-per-view fight since he stopped Hector Velazquez on HBO in September 2005. Joe Tessitore, Teddy Atlas and Timothy Bradley Jr. will call the fight ringside for ESPN. Jorge Eduardo Sanchez and Juan Manuel Marquez will call it for ESPN Deportes. The undercard starts at 7 p.m. ET, with the Pacquiao-Horn fight scheduled for 10 p.m. ET.