Ryan O’Callaghan played 51 games for the Chiefs and Patriots over the course of his five-year NFL career, which ended in 2011. In an interview with Outsports this morning, he came out as gay, discussed how hard it was to transition out of a playing career, and opened up about how he planned to commit suicide after leaving the NFL.
O’Callaghan grew up in Redding, Calif., and said he first came to football in an attempt to hide from his own sexuality. He played college football at Cal, where he excelled blocking for Aaron Rodgers and Marshawn Lynch. In 2005, the defensive linemen of the Pac-10 voted him the conference’s best offensive lineman, and the Patriots picked him in the fifth round a year later.
His time with the Patriots was cut short due to shoulder injuries, and he was fortunate enough to follow departing GM Scott Pioli to Kansas City. O’Callaghan managed two more seasons before injuries cut his career short, and that’s when he says he faced the hardest challenges of his life and started preparing to kill himself:
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.”
“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.”
Luckily, O’Callaghan was still in contact with the Chiefs’ training staff as he was trying to get one last shot at playing in the NFL. Head trainer David Price noticed that O’Callaghan seemed to be sinking into depression and he referred the lineman to Susan Wilson, who had spent time counseling Chiefs players on drug abuse. He came out to Pioli after the 2011 season and a conversation with the GM helped him feel comfortable enough to speak openly about his sexuality with his close family and friends:
“Was it great at the beginning?” O’Callaghan remembered. “No. 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.”
O’Callaghan also spoke with Rodgers and a few other ex-teammates, and he says he received more support than he expected. He now lives back in Redding, and he carries the scars from his short playing career:
He’s now arrived at the point in his life where he wants to make a difference. On permanent disability due to his NFL injuries — he has to use his hand and arm to lift his left leg into his truck thanks to a bum groin — he has been working through disability claims and unable to work since 2012.
O’Callaghan is still figuring what he wants to do next, and he said that he wants to help anyone struggling with their sexuality find community like he did:
“It’s not always easy being honest, but I can tell you it’s much easier and more enjoyable being yourself and not living a lie.”
Be sure to check out the full story at Outsports.