Ryan O’Callaghan has just joined the very exclusive club of retired NFL players to come out publicly as gay.
A former tackle for the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs, O’Callaghan has also opened up about his plans to kill himself when his playing days were over.
‘In high school, football turned into a way to go to college,’ he tells Outsports.
‘In college football (at UC Berkley) 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.’
He played six seasons in the NFL before injuries ended his career in 2011. The sport had been his ‘beard’ and now O’Callaghan had to face being gay.
His physical and emotional pain led to a drug problem and plans to kill himself.
‘I was abusing painkillers, no question,’ he says. ‘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.
‘I started spending all my money to put myself in a position where it would be impossible, or at least extremely difficult, to back out of killing myself.’
What saved him was the Chiefs head trainer, David Price, noticing a change in O’Callaghan who was still getting physical therapy at the team’s facility.
Price recommended a counselor who he confided in about being suicidal and eventually, about being gay.
O’Callaghan then began to come out to friends and family.
‘Was it great at the beginning? No,’ he admits. ‘Did everyone totally understand what it meant to be gay? No. But they knew what my alternative was. I told people close to me that I planned on killing myself. So at that point, no one cared. They were just happy that I was alive.
‘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.’