Former Patriots and Chiefs offensive lineman Ryan O'Callaghan came out publicly as gay in an Outsports story published Tuesday.
O'Callaghan played six years in the NFL before injuries ended his career. In the story, he describes hiding his sexuality from family and teammates, as well as how he planned to commit suicide after his career.
O'Callaghan 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."
The former offensive lineman admitted to abusing painkillers not just because of injuries he sustained, but because it helped him manage his inner turmoil over his sexuality. He planned to kill himself after his football career, but a counselor who worked with the Chiefs—a woman named Susan Wilson—helped him change his mind.
After coming out to her, O'Callaghan started coming out to others in his life, like family members and Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli. He also came out to several others in the NFL, including his former college teammate Aaron Rodgers.
"All I had ever done was think how bad the reaction would be," O’Callaghan told Outsports. "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."
O'Callaghan said that he can't remember a fellow NFL player ever using a gay slur over his time in the league, but that he still felt uncomfortable in certain locker room situations, like when the subject turned to women.
In 2014, Michael Sam made history as the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL, though he never played a regular season game. Both Pioli and Wilson told Outsports that they had counseled other gay NFL players.
O'Callaghan was largely a backup, but he started 12 games for the Chiefs in 2009. He also started one game for the 2007 Patriots, who finished 16–0 before reaching the Super Bowl.
For more on O'Callaghan's journey to coming out, be sure to read Outsports' entire story.