Ryan O’Callaghan, a former tackle with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, has come out as gay in a new Outsports profile. In a remarkable story, O’Callaghan reveals how his sexuality drove him to suicidal thoughts, but football served as both an outlet and a disguise.
O’Callaghan played in the NFL over several seasons in the late 2000s, including the Patriots’ near-perfect 2007 season. Injuries cost him his NFL career, but not before he made the connections that would help him work through his pain and avoid the suicide he’d planned for himself for years.
“No one is going to assume the big football player is gay,” said O’Callaghan, who was 6’7″, 330 pounds during his career. “It’s why a football team is such a good place to hide.”
O’Callaghan played college ball at Cal, where he blocked for Aaron Rodgers and Marshawn Lynch. He won the Morris Trophy, presented by the Pac-10 to the top offensive lineman in the conference. And his game caught the eye of Bill Belichick, who selected O’Callaghan in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL draft. That allowed O’Callaghan to keep burying the truth about himself, and to put off thoughts of suicide.
“In high school, football turned into a way to go to college,” he explained. “In college football was a great cover for being gay. And then I saw the NFL mainly as a way to keep hiding my sexuality and stay alive.”
But once injuries bounced O’Callaghan from the league in 2011, he turned to painkillers. His life began a downward spiral, and it was only when a physical therapist convinced him to begin telling people of his secret that the light began to dawn. O’Callaghan and then-Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli had a pivotal talk, as recounted in the Outsports article:
“He had built this up like he was coming in to tell me that maybe he had done something truly terrible,” Pioli remembered.
O’Callaghan trudged into Pioli’s office the next day. After a hug and some small talk, O’Callaghan turned serious. He told Pioli he had been visiting with Wilson and had gotten “clean.” It was good news to Pioli.
“I’ve got something else I’ve got to tell you,” O’Callaghan said. At this point he was fighting back tears. Pioli’s mind raced, wondering if his player had harmed or killed someone.
“I’m gay,” O’Callaghan said.
His private announcement was met with immediate support from the GM. Then:
“So what’s the problem you wanted to talk me about?” Pioli asked.
O’Callaghan said he is sharing his story now to help others who might be in the same situation as he was, LGBT players or individuals who are in hiding or in denial. He hopes that by showing them — and their friends, family and fans — that acceptance is possible, he’ll make their lives a bit easier too.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.
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