While in the NFL, Ryan O’Callaghan faced down 300-pound opponents. Yet, the bravest thing this ex-Kansas City Chiefs player did was finally accept that he was gay, so get to know all about Ryan’s story.
1. He started playing football to hide his sexuality. “No one is going to assume the big football player is gay,” Ryan O’Callaghan, 33, said while talking with OutSports.com. Growing up in the conservative town of Redding, California, Ryan felt he had to hide his true self from everyone around him. Suddenly, he found a perfect refuge – the last place anyone expected to look for a gay kid. The nature of the sport seemed to go against every stereotype of gay men that he knew of the time. “It’s why a football team is such a good place to hide,” he added. “Football was kind of the cover for my life…Football was the most masculine thing I could do, so I decided to dedicate myself to football.” Yet, the turmoil of hiding his sexuality was so painful that Ryan decided that if he ever stopped playing football (and thus lose the one way he thought he could hide his sexuality) he’d kill himself.
2. He played college ball with a future Super Bowl champ. Ryan’s skill got him a scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley. While an offensive tackle for the Golden Bears, Ryan blocked for his high school friend, Aaron Rodgers, 33. Ryan earned the Pac-10’s Morris Trophy, the highest honor given to an offensive tackle in the division. Ultimately, the NFL came calling. “In high school, football turned into a way to go to college,” Ryan 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.”
3. He was part of the near-perfect New England Patriots. The New England Patriots picked him in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Ryan was part of the 2007 Patriots squad that posted a perfect regular season record (but lost Super Bowl XLII to the New England Giants.) Ryan hurt his left shoulder during the 2008 preseason, forcing him to miss the entire season. He was released right before the start of the 2009 season.
4. The pressure of staying closeted nearly drove him to suicide. Scott Pioli, a former Patriots exec who became the Kansas City Chiefs’ general manager, scooped up Ryan and gave him a contract. Sadly, mounting injuries forced him to end his career in 2011. Ryan, thinking he had no other options than to kill himself, started abusing painkillers. He spent $400 a day on drugs and bought a $70,000 cabin outside of Kansas City, a place where he planned to commit suicide.
The Chief’s trainer, David Price, noticed that Ryan wasn’t himself and suggested he see Susan Wilson, a counselor who worked with players on drug abuse. However, Susan knew there was more going on here. Through their sessions, Ryan came out as gay. “It took a while to build up that strength to even tell her. You have to build up trust with someone. Just telling her was like a huge weight off my shoulders.
5. Coffee played a role in keeping his sexuality a secret. After that weight was gone, Ryan slowly came out to his family and friends, finding that everyone “supported him” at some level. Aaron Rodgers even promised to have the back of his Cal teammate. When Ryan bravely told Scott Pioli that he was gay, the Chiefs GM didn’t blink. Ryan was stunned by Scott’s non-reaction and asked if he knew. “Ryan, how would I have known?” Scott asked, to which Ryan said, “Do you really think I like coffee that much?” It turns out that Ryan went to the training room after every practice to drink a cup of coffee to avoid being in the showers with the rest of his teammates.
Thankfully, Ryan has nothing to hide anymore. He has been out in his personal life for several years and has dated openly. Though he hasn’t advertised his sexuality before, he felt he had to take this story to the masses. “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.
What do you think about Ryan’s story, HollywoodLifers?