Former Chiefs offensive tackle Ryan O’Callaghan came out as gay in a report from Cyd Zeigler of Outsports.com.
In the article, O’Callaghan credited former Kansas City General Manager Scott Pioli and local counselor Susan Wilson as key figures that helped prevent him from committing suicide.
O’Callaghan started 13 games in Kansas City in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, before he was placed on injured reserve in 2011.
The article details the struggles O’Callaghan’s faced growing up, and how he viewed football as a place where few would suspect he was gay, where his secret would be buried.
“No one is going to assume the big football player is gay," O’Callaghan said. "It’s why a football team is such a good place to hide.”
O’Callaghan’s football career blossomed in high school, which led to a starting spot at Cal. As a senior, he won the Pac-10’s Morris Trophy, given to the best offensive lineman in the conference.
In 2006 he was drafted in the fifth round and started his professional career for the New England Patriots, where Pioli served as Vice President of Player Personnel for seven years.
Pioli signed O’Callaghan when he first came to Kansas City in 2009. The 6-foot-7, 330-pound tackle played in 25 games for the Chiefs over a two-year span.
A shoulder injury landed O’Callaghan on the IR during the 2011 training camp. This is when O’Callaghan said he knew his career was over, and also when he turned to pain killers.
"I was abusing painkillers, no question," O’Callaghan said. "It helped with the pain of the injuries, and with the pain of being gay. I just didn’t worry about being gay when I took the Vicodin. I just didn’t worry."
O’Callaghan said without football to protect him, he suddenly felt vulnerable to questions about his sexual orientation. He said he decided many years ago that he would never, nor could never, live life as an openly gay man.
He began to distance himself from all of his family and friends, feeling that if he simply pushed everyone away it would be easier for them to accept his suicide.
At this same time, O’Callaghan was still utilizing the Chiefs training facilities and underwent physical therapy for his injury. David Price, the team’s head trainer at the time, noticed the change in personality. He encouraged him to visit Susan Wilson, a psychologist who worked with the Chiefs and the NFL counseling players on drug abuse.
Months and countless hours of conversation after their first meeting, knowing she could not legally reveal to anyone, Wilson became the first person who O’Callaghan told he was gay.
"All I had ever done was think how bad the reaction would be," O’Callaghan said. "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."
Even after telling Wilson, O’Callaghan still intended to go through with his suicide plans. He owned a number of guns at his small cabin outside of Kansas City and had a suicide note ready to leave at the scene.
However, Wilson convinced him to first come out to his family and friends to find out their reaction, then choose whether or not he had to end his life. This made sense to O’Callaghan, so he decided to come out to select people, experience rejection, then end it all.
Just after the 2011 season, O’Callaghan visited Pioli, the man who drafted him and brought him to Kansas City.
"I’ve got something else I’ve got to tell you," O’Callaghan said. Zeigler writes that while O’Callaghan was fighting back tears, Pioli’s mind raced, wondering if his player had harmed or killed someone.
"I’m gay," O’Callaghan said.
His announcement was met with immediate support from Pioli, who then responded:
"So what’s the problem you wanted to talk me about?" Pioli asked.
"Scott," O’Callaghan said, "I’m… gay."
Pioli asked again if O’Callaghan had done something wrong.
"People like me are supposed to react a certain way, I guess," Pioli told Outsports. "I wasn’t minimizing what he was telling me, but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. He built this up and built this up to the point where he said he was nearly suicidal. What Ryan didn’t know is how many gay people I’ve had in my life."
Pioli assured O’Callaghan that their conversation changed nothing, he was there to support him, and they were still friends.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the two said goodbye, and Pioli opened his arms. The two had hugged countless times, but O’Callaghan stuck out his hand to shake.
"What’s with the handshake?" Pioli asked.
"I just told you I’m gay," O’Callaghan replied.
Pioli was having none of it and grabbed O’Callaghan.
"Dude, it’s OK," Pioli said as he grabbed O’Callaghan. "Just don’t grab my butt."
O’Callaghan burst into laughter, as the humor was a sign that Pioli wasn’t going to change.
"Don’t worry," O’Callaghan said, "You’re not my type."
O’Callaghan said as he then came out to friends and family, that everyone supported him at some level.
"Being gay wasn’t just a small detail in my life, it consumed it. It’s all I would think about,” O’Callaghan said. “But now that I have come out it rarely crosses my mind. Yeah I’d go about my daily life in football, but thinking about hiding it and hoping no one finds out and being ready for any situation was exhausting."
O’Callaghan now lives in Redding, California near his family.
"It’s not always easy being honest, but I can tell you it’s much easier and more enjoyable being yourself and not living a lie,” O’Callaghan said.
The full O’Callaghan story can be found at outsports.com.
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