RETIRED American NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan has opened up about his journey to accepting himself as a gay man in sports.
In an interview with Outsports, O’Callaghan said he grew up rejecting his gay identity because of homophobic jokes and remarks from those around him.
O’Callaghan decided to use football to hide his sexuality, posing as a straight man while playing first for school teams and then for the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs.
“No one is going to assume the big football player is gay,” he said.
“It’s why a football team is such a good place to hide.”
O’Callaghan said he threw himself into football with the intention of killing himself when his sporting career was over.
After a shoulder injury in 2011, he was forced to stop playing, and developed a painkiller habit.
“It helped with the pain of the injuries, and the pain of being gay,” he said.
While planning to kill himself, O’Callaghan was still attending physiotherapy at the Kansas City Chiefs facility. His trainer noticed he wasn’t himself and referred him to a counsellor, who became the first person O’Callaghan came out to as gay.
He next came out to the team general manager, Scott Pioli, who was unfazed by the disclosure.
“He built this up and built this up to the point where he was nearly suicidal,” said Pioli.
“What Ryan didn’t know is how many gay people I’ve had in my life.”
Pioli said O’Callaghan was not the first gay NFL player he had counselled.
O’Callaghan then came out to friends and family, and found all were more supportive than he had anticipated.
He has since worked with LGBTI organisations, and hopes that sharing his story will help others find peace with their identities.
“As long as there are people killing themselves because they are gay, there is a reason for people like me to share my story and try to help,” he said.