Former Patriots OL Ryan O’Callaghan comes out as gay, almost committed suicide
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For years, Ryan O’Callaghan hid who he really was.
The former New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs tackle was so ashamed of himself and fearful of what people might say if they found out he was gay, that he vowed he could never let his deepest, darkest secret out.
In fact, his plan was to play football, and then ultimately end his own life before anyone would find out.
The 6-foot-7, 330-pound offensive tackle grew up in conservative Redding, Calif. Where his own views of gay people were skewed by slurs and negative views from the media - leading him to believe that people in his life would never accept the fact that he was gay.
His dad was a high school and college referee who saw football potential in his son who was outgrowing his classmates in size and strength. Ryan began playing football in his freshman year of high school. Thanks to the stigma of the sport, he realized it would be great place to help hide his sexuality and bury his secret.
O’Callaghan’s dominance on the field was noticed when he attended a camp at UC-Berkeley, leading to a college scholarship and then a career in the NFL. Football honors and attention from the NFL delayed his plan of suicide for a while longer.
“In high school, football turned into a way to go to college,” O’Callaghan said, “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.”
It was in the 2006 NFL Draft that he drew the attention of Coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
Foxborough was the perfect place for the offensive tackle to keep his mind off of his sexuality. In Patriot territory, all the reporters, teammates and fans cared about was winning.
“Distractions were not allowed. Everyone on the team had a job, knew their job and really focused on doing that. As little comfort as it did bring, it did help,” O’Callaghan said.
But every once in a while, questions would come about regarding O’Callaghan and his personal life. He simply played it off by saying he was dating “a girl back home.” But locker room talk among the teammates about girlfriends and wives, still made him feel uneasy.
Injuries plagued his role in New England after two seasons. During the 2008 preseason, a left shoulder injury placed him on injured reserve, and the Patriots cut him a year later.
It was a New England connection that gave him a second chance with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Scott Pioli was the Patriots former vice president of player personnel who moved into a general manager role with the Chiefs. Under Pioli’s guidance, O’Callaghan was able to maintain a starting position with the Chiefs throughout the 2009 season.
But injuries took over once again after that. He obtained a groin injury before the 2010 season and lost his starting position. Then during the 2011 training camp with the Chiefs, his shoulder problems returned. O’Callaghan was put on injured reserve and never played again.
Now that football was over, O’Callaghan had so much down time that he was not used to. His darkest thoughts about his sexuality and suicide began to creep back into his mind. He now felt exposed and helpless and began using painkillers again.
There were times he would spend $400 a day on drugs; there was even and instance when he took 30 Vicodin in one day. He bought a $70,000 small cabin outside of Kansas City where he planned to end his life. Among these actions, O’Callaghan also distanced himself from his friend and family.
“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.”
While all this was going on, O’Callaghan was still holding onto a small chance that he could play in the NFL again. He kept attending physical therapy at the Chiefs facility. It was there that the team’s trainer, David Price, encouraged him to see a clinical psychologist for the Chiefs and the NFL, Susan Wilson.
After months of opening up to Wilson, O’Callaghan finally decided he could confide in her to tell her his deepest secret. She even convinced him that he should tell his family and friends first to see their reaction before deciding whether to end his life or not.
He began with the man who gave him a second chance in the NFL, Scott Pioli. With a reassuring reaction from his GM, O’Callaghan was able to muster up the confidence to tell his friends and family.
“Was it great at the beginning? No.” O’Callaghan said, “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.”
With a whole new mindset, O’Callaghan wants to make a difference. Although he misses the days of his football career, a concept that saved him for so long, he has started doing some work with the local LGBT organization. He also wants to share his story in hopes of opening up more communication for struggling LGBT people.
“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,” he said.
“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.”