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Former NFL offensive tackle Ryan O’Callaghan came out as gay in an interview with Outsports published on Tuesday.
In the interview, O’Callaghan describes his struggles with coming out, how he used football as a way to hide his identity, and his plans to commit suicide once his football career was over.
O’Callaghan remembers being a junior in high school, and thinking he could never reveal his secret. When high school came around, he decided that football could act as his “beard,” a cover that would help to hide his secret from others, and that once his playing days were over, he would end his own life.
“No one is going to assume the big football player is gay,” he said. “It’s why a football team is such a good place to hide.
So he dove into football and made a pact with himself: As long as he put on those pads, he was good to go. Once football was over, he’d take a gun to his head and end it all. That was the deal, and he would hold himself to it.
But luckily, high school football led to college recruitment and O’Callaghan eventually found himself at the University of California, where he would block for Aaron Rodgers and be voted best offensive lineman in the conference by his Pac-10 opponents.
O’Callaghan was drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. He told Outsports that the high-intensity environment and winning-over-everything attitude of the Patriots helped to make his time with New England, while still difficult, slightly easier.
After a sustaining a few injuries, O’Callaghan was cut from the Patriots after two seasons, but followed general manager Scott Pioli to Kansas City and joined the Chiefs roster. Eventually, injuries sidelined him again and ended his career in 2011.
With his playing days seemingly over, O’Callaghan began abusing the pills that had been meant to help him with rehab.
O’Callaghan had found [pain killers] years earlier as he battled injuries, but in 2011 the pain of his injuries and his sexual orientation became so much to bear that be began to abuse them. He says prescriptions were easy to get as the big offensive tackle begged for more. O’Callaghan remembers one day in particular when he took 30 Vicodin. It would have killed a normal man, but not an NFL offensive tackle who had started taking the drug regularly.
“I was abusing painkillers, no question,” he said matter-of-factly. “It helped with the pain of the injuries, and with the pain of being gay. I just didn’t worry about being gay when I took the Vicodin. I just didn’t worry.”
O’Callaghan was making plans to end his own life, spending recklessly and even writing a suicide note at one point. He was still working with the Chiefs staff at the time, and David Price, the team’s head trainer, noticed that O’Callaghan had not been his usual self. Price set O’Callaghan up with Susan Wilson, a clinical psychologist who had worked with both the Chiefs and the NFL counseling players on drug abuse.
O’Callaghan eventually came out to Wilson, the first person he had ever revealed his secret to. From there, he opened up to other people in his life, including former coaches and teammates, as well as friends and family. O’Callaghan now seems to have a solid support system in place and appears to be more at peace with his life.
Now O’Callaghan is in a very different place. He has been out in his personal life for several years and has dated openly. While he hasn’t advertised the fact that he is gay, he has not lied about it or hidden it.
“Being gay wasn’t just a small detail in my life, it consumed it. It’s all I would think about. But now that I have come out it rarely crosses my mind. Yeah I’d go about my daily life in football, but thinking about hiding it and hoping no one finds out and being ready for any situation was exhausting.”
He hopes that sharing his story might help others, be they successful athletes or kids hiding behind the shield a high school football uniform provides, to know that suicide is not the answer.
“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.”
You can read the entire story at Outsports, as well as check out a video interview with O’Callaghan below.