By Alana Winns
To ex-Patriots offensive linemen Ryan O’Callaghan, football was more than just a sport, a way to burn energy as a kid or even a way to provide a full-ride to college — it was a matter of life or death.
What his old teammates didn’t know then is that O’Callaghan was caught between whether or not to take his own life in fear of being judged for being gay. The product of the University of California, boasting an incredible height of 6’7 and 330 pounds, came out publicly as gay in an Outsports story published on Tuesday.
O’Callaghan, who spent six seasons in the NFL between the New York Patriots and Kansas Chiefs, told Outsports he first realized he was gay in junior high school but that he didn’t come out to anyone until the end of his career, when he started counseling sessions over his abuse of painkillers.
He said he decided to play the game, from college football at Cal to the NFL, in large part to hide his sexuality.
“No one is going to assume the big football player is gay,” he told Outsports. “It’s why a football team is such a good place to hide.”
For O’Callaghan, he put all his efforts in being a successful athlete and allowed the accolades and NFL attention to hold off plans of suicide for years.
The five-time NFL champs New England Patriots took notice of O’Callaghan’s protection of Aaron Rodgers, the star quarterback for the Green Bay Packers and a college buddy of O’Callaghan’s, along with his blocking of former Seattle Seahawks member, Marshawn Lynch.
Making a lasting impression, Coach Bill Belichick used the 136th pick — close to the start of the 2006 NFL Draft’s fifth round — to give the rookie tackle a shot.
Once drafted, the rookie focused his entire life while in Foxborough on making the roster. During his conversation with Outsports, O’Callaghan said he knew his life depended on continuing his football career, which also paved the way for his competitive desire to perform well in games. Being on the cusp of a career in the NFL was not something he took lightly.
“I was deadly serious about making that team, which meant doing my best and giving all I could. There was never in my head the idea of ‘just being good enough.’ To me it was a deadly serious relationship I had with football,” he told the publication’s Cyd Zeigler.
After getting picked up by the Kansas Chiefs in 2009, the emotionally conflicted athlete sustained career ending injuries with the team two years later. This is when the former offensive lineman admitted to abusing painkillers not just to manage the ache, but to conceal his inner turmoil over his sexuality. He planned to kill himself after his football career, something that had always been in the playbook, but after the suggestion from a concerned Chiefs’ staff member, he sought counseling.
He told Outsports that a counselor who worked with the team — a woman named Susan Wilson who has counseled athletes struggling with sexual identify before — initially helped O’Callaghan with painkiller abuse before realizing there was a deeper issue.
He explained his biggest fear was the reaction of his family and close friends if he told them the truth, which is why he planned to take his life after his NFL days ended. However, he told Outsports, “It takes a lot more strength to be honest with yourself than it does to lie.”