Former Patriots and Chiefs offensive tackle Ryan O’Callaghan publicly came out on Tuesday, saying that he strongly considered committing suicide before he received support from the Kansas City organization.
O’Callaghan discusssed the gripping, heart-wrenching journey he took as a closeted gay man in college football and the NFL in a piece bySB Nation’s Outsports.The story provides a unique window into the devastating toll the lying and hiding can have on an individual.
Now that he’s come out, O’Callaghan says he’s committed to helping those enduring similar struggles.
"As long as there are people killing themselves because they are gay, there is a reason for people like me to share my story and try to help," O’Callaghan said. "People need to understand that we are everywhere. We’re your sons, your daughters, your teammates, your neighbors. And honestly, even some of your husbands and wives. You just don’t know it yet."
O’Callaghan says he used football as a way to shield his sexuality from the world. And once his playing days were over, he planned on killing himself — unable to show his true self to his conservative family and friends.
"In college, football was a great cover for being gay," said O’Callaghan, who played with Aaron Rodgers at Cal before being drafted by the Patriots in the fifth round of the 2006 draft. "And then I saw the NFL mainly as a way to keep hiding my sexuality and stay alive.
"To me, it was a deadly serious relationship I had with football."
O’Callaghan played 26 games for the Patriots in 2006 and 2007 before a left shoulder injury in 2008 derailed his career in New England.
In 2009, he joined the Chiefs thanks to general manager Scott Pioli, who had previously worked in the Patriots’ player personnel department for eight years.
O’Callaghan played 25 games with the Chiefs in 2009 and 2010, but he continued to deal with health problems. He suffered a groin injury in 2010 and re-injured his shoulder in 2011, ending his career.
It was during this time O’Callaghan started abusing painkillers, he said. He told Outsports he once took 30 Vicodin pills in a single day.
"It helped with the pain of the injuries, and with the pain of being gay," O’Callaghan said. "I just didn’t worry about being gay when I took the Vicodin. I just didn’t worry."
In the meantime, he began preparing for his suicide, spending $70,000 on a cabin on his property near Kansas City in which he planned to eventually end his life.
Noticing O’Callaghan’s painkiller dependency but unaware of the true nature of the issue, Pioli urged the offensive lineman to speak with Susan Wilson, a Chiefs and NFL counselor who specialized in helping players with drug abuse problems.
Wilson became the first person O’Callaghan told he was gay. That gave him the courage to come out to Pioli, as well, and the Chiefs general manager accepted O’Callaghan with open arms — literally.
"People like me are supposed to react a certain way, I guess," Pioli said. "I wasn’t minimizing what he was telling me, but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. He built this up and built this up to the point where he said he was nearly suicidal. What Ryan didn’t know is how many gay people I’ve had in my life."
O’Callaghan now resides in Redding, Calif., but is looking to have a great impact on the LGBT community, which is the major reason he’s decided to come out in a public forum.
"It’s not always easy being honest," he said, "but I can tell you it’s much easier and more enjoyable being yourself and not living a lie."