Throughout his entire National Football League (NFL) career, former New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs star Ryan O’Callaghan used football to hide the part of his life he wanted no-one to know about.
O’Callaghan, who hasn’t played in the NFL since 2011, publicly revealed his biggest secret in a long-form article with Outsports.com on Tuesday ― he is gay.
In an emotional interview with Cyd Zeigler, the 33-year-old offensive lineman discussed his struggles with who he was, his use of football as a shield to divert attention away from his sexuality, battles with substance abuse and his plan to take his own life as soon as his career ended.
Watch O’Callaghan open up about his experiences below.
In the article, the 2006 fifth-round Patriots draft pick explains how he was conscious that his performances in the NFL couldn’t hide his sexuality from the world forever and how he came to terms with what he planned to do after his career ended.
“I used football as kind of a cover for my life and football was the most masculine thing that I could do. So I decided to dedicate myself to football and I thought that it’d be a great cover, so I did whatever I had to do to make it work,” O’Callaghan told Zeigler.
“It was always on my mind because my biggest fear was getting caught. I just didn’t think anyone would ever accept me.”
A shoulder injury that saw him dropped from the Patriots in 2009, transferred to the Chiefs and then eventually dropped to the reserves in 2011 spelled the end of O’Callaghan’s NFL career before he entered a dangerous period of pain killer addiction, reckless spending and distancing himself from his loved ones.
“I had always planned when my career was over ― that’s it, I’m over ― and I kind of had a meltdown. I started abusing drugs and it got really out of hand,” O’Callaghan said.
“How close did you come to killing yourself?” Zeigler then asked. “I wrote a letter. I was close. If it wasn’t for some good friends, a couple of good dogs, yeah I’d be gone,” the lineman replied as he started to get emotional.
With the help of a Chiefs and NFL therapist following the end of the 2011 season, O’Callaghan began to confront his biggest fear of coming out to the people closest to him and being met with their reactions, only to be met with more support than he ever thought possible.
And his message for anyone else who still may be struggling with their sexuality?
“Coming out is not the end of the world, it’ll be OK. I’m having a great time, I love life now, I absolutely love life now.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.