Jack Brennan, a longtime public relations director for the Cincinnati Bengals, is writing a book about his time in the NFL while living secretly as a married cross-dresser.
Brennan retired after the 2016 NFL season following 23 years with the team. He waited until leaving the industry to come out as queer, becoming one of the first men within the NFL to do so, and shared his story with Joe Posnaski at The Athletic.
“All throughout,” he writes in a book he is working on, “I was secretly a cross-dresser — a guy with a visceral and sexual urge to wear skirts and high heels and play-act as a woman.”
Jack Brennan hopes coming out helps understanding
Football in general and the NFL specifically is still seen primarily as the "manly" sport viewed as requiring a masculinity to be involved in it. That is increasingly not the case as women have now coached a Super Bowl champion and players are coming out as gay and bi (though that number is still extremely small).
Brennan, a married father of three, said he is sharing his story to help people develop tolerance and understanding.
“I think the mindset of the culture is that there are straight people and queer people and that there’s a big line between them, and never the twain shall meet,” he said, via The Athletic. “And I hope that by coming out, maybe I can help some people see that there is no big line, that people are many different things, and queers are not so fundamentally different as to be constantly defined by it.”
He also spoke about his insight into the NFL and its culture. He said he doesn't think the league, its teams and the people within them are "oppressively homophobic and anti-queer," but instead are "overwhelmingly silent about it all."
“Yet, all through my years of being in the league — and this goes for the NFL sportswriting community, too — it’s almost like it was magically, wordlessly scrubbed free of the idea that anybody is anything but textbook straight," he said, via The Athletic. "You just never hear a word of anybody being otherwise. It’s assumed, it’s in football’s DNA, that nobody is queer — it’s just anathema to the goals of toughness and winning. And this goes beyond the locker room, it’s there even in marketing, ticketing, the equipment room, the training room. It’s kind of hard to describe, but it’s just silently and unmovably there: Nobody could possibly be anything but straight.”
He said while he was working for the Bengals he was "terribly afraid of people finding out" so much so that he almost stopped cross-dressing. His wife, he said, was afraid he would lose his job if anyone knew. He said he finds it difficult to come out now to male friends he's made in heterosexist and traditionally male environments.
NFL's players afraid of backlash, former players say
By sheer probability alone there are LGBTQ+ individuals in the NFL and playing football in lower levels around the country. Those identifying as gay receive the most attention currently, but there are also those elsewhere on the "gender spectrum."
Former player Ryan O'Callaghan, who publicly shared he was gay in 2017, said every team has at least one gay or bisexual player but they fear backlash for coming out. It could include the loss of a roster spot or loss of sponsors.
“I think it’s safe to say there’s at least one on every team who is either gay or bisexual," he told Reuters in August of 2019. "A lot of guys still see it as potentially having a negative impact on their career.”
Michael Sam became the first openly gay football player drafted into the NFL in 2014. But he never played an official game and fell out of the league. That can be viewed as progress or as a cautious tale depending on the person, as Brennan told Posnaski about his views and a friend's views on it.
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