Former NFL offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan, who spent spent two seasons with the New England Patriots before playing his final two seasons here in Kansas City, recently came out publicly as gay and discussed his struggles with his identity, substance abuse, and thoughts of suicide as he lived in a world he felt would never accept him.
O’Callaghan told Outsports, a partner of SB Nation, that as he worked his way into his sport’s premier league, his plan was to play out his career and then take his own life. O’Callaghan detailed his journey from keeping his secret from the world, to falling into drug addiction after injuries ended his career, to plans of suicide, to eventually getting the help he needed and accepting his sexuality and himself for who he is.
O’Callaghan thanks a small group of people within the Chiefs organization for helping him overcome his struggles.
In his candid interview with Outsports, O’Callaghan said he grew up hearing general negative comments and gay slurs from friends and family members, forcing him to feel he had to keep that part of his life a secret.
“If you’re a gay kid and you hear someone you love say ‘fag,’ it makes you think that in their eyes you’re just a fag too,” O’Callaghan told Outsports. “That got to me a lot.”
Taking football on as a good way to keep his secret hidden, O’Callaghan went on to play college ball at the University of California before being drafted by the Patriots in the fifth round of the 2006 draft.
“No one is going to assume the big football player is gay. It’s why a football team is such a good place to hide,” O’Callaghan said.
O’Callaghan explains his journey from leaving New England after missing the entire 2008 season with a shoulder injury and getting a second chance with the Chiefs. He slogged through a rough 4-12 KC season in 2009, struggled with injuries in 2010, and was let go in 2011.
As he faced down his thoughts of suicide now that his career was over, he turned to drugs.
“I was abusing painkillers, no question,” he said. “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.”
But it was in Kansas City, O’Callaghan said, that he found a small group of people who gave him the support he needed to get his life back on track. He said he continued physical therapy at the Chiefs facility, where head trainer David Price began to suspect something was wrong.
Price encouraged him to reach out to Susan Wilson, now a Vice Chancellor with UMKC, who worked as a consulting psychologist with the Chiefs and the NFL.
After months of counseling sessions, Wilson was the first person to whom O’Callaghan came out. Through his sessions with her, he eventually decided to visit general manager Scott Pioli at his office to discuss a problem he had been dealing with.
There, he told Pioli that he was no longer abusing drugs, and then he told him his secret.
“I’m gay,” O’Callaghan said.
“So, what’s the problem you wanted to talk me about?” Pioli recalled asking. Pioli also told him he wasn’t the first gay player to confide in the GM.
O’Callaghan’s tale continues on from there, to becoming openly gay, to doing some work with his local LGBT organization in Redding, Calif. He still struggles with a permanent physical disability due to his past injuries, but he’s come a long way to sharing his story with Outsports.
As the story hit the web Tuesday morning, numerous sports fans have taken to social media to express their support for O’Callaghan and the Chiefs.
“Amazing story, and one that makes me proud to be a Chiefs fan,” Kevin M. Kruse tweeted.
ESPN’s Jenna Laine tweeted, “‘Once football was over, he’d take a gun to his head and end it all’…WOW.”
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please seek help immediately. You can find a full list of resources at FOX 4 You Matter.