Former New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs tackle Ryan O’Callaghan publicly came out as gay on Tuesday in a story with Outsports, detailing an elaborate plan to kill himself before NFL staffers eventually intervened.
The 33-year-old former offensive tackle, who played in the NFL from 2006-2011, said he used football to hide his true identity and spent most of his career preparing for an eventual suicide after his time on the football field was no more.
“No one was going to assume the big football player is gay,” the 6-foot-7, 330-pound O’Callaghan told Outsports, an online coming-out and advocacy magazine for LGBT athletes. “It’s why a football team is such a good place to hide.”
O’Callaghan credited Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli -- a former general manager with the Chiefs and former vice president of player personnel for the Patriots -- as one of many who saved his life. Dr. Susan Wilson, a licensed clinical psychologist who counseled Chiefs and other NFL players, was the first person he confided in about his sexual orientation. O’Callaghan said both responded so well that it gave him courage to come out to friends and family members and finally be his authentic self.
"All I had ever done was think how bad the reaction would be," O’Callaghan said. "It takes a lot more strength to be honest with yourself than it does to lie. … being gay wasn’t just a small detail in my life; it consumed it. It’s all I would think about. But now that I have come out, it rarely crossed my mind.”
Messages to the NFL and the Patriots and Chiefs organizations were not immediately returned when contacted by USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday afternoon.
O’Callaghan detailed a depressive state in which he took 30 Vicodin and developed an addiction to painkillers, noting that, “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.”
O’Callaghan is the first publicly gay person to have played in an NFL game in recent years. Former Missouri standout Michael Sam, who came out in 2014, was drafted by the St. Louis Rams and was later on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster, but he never played an NFL regular-season game and has since stepped away from professional football.
O’Callaghan said the closet is much bigger than people realize, and that homophobic language in locker rooms made the idea of coming out during his career unimaginable.
“People need to understand that we are everywhere. We’re your sons, your daughters, your teammates, your neighbors,” he said. “And honestly, even some of your husbands and wives. You just don’t know it yet.”
O’Callaghan, who attended UC-Berkeley, won the Pac-12’s Morris Trophy as the league’s best offensive lineman.
“In high school, football turned into a way of college,” he 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.
"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."