An inspiring story that could have ended in tragedy.
Ryan O’Callaghan devoted most of his life to playing football, but his dedication to the sport was really just a ploy to hide from his true identity.
The former NFL star, who played for the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, just came out as gay in a moving interview with OutSports — and admitted he planned on committing suicide when his career was over.
The athlete felt he could never live as an openly gay man growing up in the conservative town of Redding, California, and realized in high school he didn’t fit any of the traditional gay stereotypes.
Shortly after coming out to himself in junior high school, O’Callaghan decided that he would hide behind the pinnacle of masculinity: football.
“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.”
While his professional career in sports began to flourish, so did his fear of living as his true self — and soon, O’Callaghan decided he would put a gun to his head as soon as football came to an end.
In the following years, the starting tackle began abusing pain pills and recklessly spending money. As the end of his football career approached, the athlete stopped talking to his friends and family, hoping to distance them and make his inevitable suicide easier for them.
Thankfully, O’Callaghan was going to physical therapy at the Chiefs facility, hoping to squeeze out one more season in the NFL, during what was very nearly the last year of his life.
But the team’s head trainer David Price noticed the tackle was not himself and advised he should seek help. O’Callaghan then spoke to NFL counselor Susan Wilson, who suggested he come out to his family and see their reaction before deciding if he needed to kill himself.
That blunt advice was all O’Callaghan needed to begin coming out to his NFL contacts and even his family. He explained:
“All I had ever done was think how bad the reaction would be. It takes a lot more strength to be honest with yourself than it does to lie. 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.”
What a relief!!
Looking back, O’Callaghan can’t recall a single time during his six NFL seasons that he heard someone use a gay slur — and he says he thinks the league is ready for an openly gay player.
He said of the still not fully visible LGBT community:
“People need to understand that we are everywhere. We’re your sons, your daughters, your teammates, your neighbors. And honestly, even some of your husbands and wives. You just don’t know it yet.”
So incredibly powerful.
Watch O’Callaghan’s interview (below) to hear more.
[Image via SB Nation/YouTube.]