Not everyone lives the coming out dream, declaring who they are in prepubescence, ready to take on the world in fifth grade. While former NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan’s coming out story shows the meteorically positive shift in LGBTQ acceptance in the social sphere, it also illustrates how dire it could seem to a closeted person just over a decade ago, especially in professional athletics.
In a heartfelt interview with Outsports, O’Callaghan talked about how, once his football career was over, he always knew he was going to commit suicide. From a young age O’Callaghan felt that he needed to hide his sexuality growing up in conservative corner of California to survive. Ironically, he felt that he’d have to end his own life once he wasn’t able to pour himself into a life devoted to “the most masculine” thing he could do.
“If you’re a gay kid and you hear someone you love say ‘fag,’ it makes you think that in their eyes you’re just a fag too,” O’Callaghan told Outsports, “that got to me a lot.”
Though his professional career saw him celebrated alongside teammates on the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, after injuries forced him out of the game O’Callaghan focused on the latter part of his years-long plan and started abusing painkillers. “In high school, football turned into a way to go to college,” he said. “In college, football was a great cover for being gay. And I saw the NFL mainly as a way to keep hiding my sexuality and stay alive.”
It wasn’t until he opened up to a psychologist and later his close friends and family that O’Callaghan could start to unravel a lifetime of self-loathing. Confessing to those closest to him that he had kept suicide in the back of his mind for years, even those who wouldn’t understand his sexuality paled at the alternative. Now, O’Callaghan shares his story with the hopes of curbing the self-destructive behaviors of people that find themselves in a similar mindset to his old self. “It’s not always easy being honest,” he said “but I can tell you it’s much easier and much more enjoyable being yourself and not living a lie.”