Former Patriots tackle Ryan O’Callaghan has come out as gay, telling Vox Media’s Outsports that he used his career in football to hide his sexual orientation.
“No one is going to assume the big football player is gay,” the California native told Outsports, which published its report Tuesday morning. “It’s why a football team is such a good place to hide.”
O’Callaghan was selected by the Patriots in the 2006 NFL Draft as the 136th pick and played two seasons with them before being sidelined with an injury and ultimately being let go.
During his Patriots days, O’Callaghan would allude to a long-distance girlfriend when teammates asked about his dating life, according to Outsports, and he at one point brought a former teammate’s ex-girlfriend as a date to a party thrown by Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
He also told the publication that during his time with the Patriots, the sexual nature of topics brought up in the locker room made him uncomfortable.
“There is so much talk about women in the locker room, even in the NFL,” O’Callaghan told Outsports. “I’d just turn around and ignore it. I figured I couldn’t even talk about it well, like they would see through me if I did.”
After being released by the Patriots, O’Callaghan then played briefly for the Kansas City Chiefs before his NFL career was ended by injuries.
Afterwards, O’Callaghan struggled mentally, according to Outsports, becoming addicted to pain killers and at one point thinking seriously about committing suicide — in large part because he felt like he had to hide his sexual orientation. After speaking with a counselor who worked with the Chiefs and the NFL, he came out to Scott Pioli, a former Patriots player personnel vice president who had become general manager for the Chiefs. The conversation went surprisingly well for O’Callaghan, who then began to tell his friends and family, including heavyweight NFL names like Aaron Rodgers.
“Was it great at the beginning?” O’Callaghan told Outsports. “No. Did everyone totally understand what it meant to be gay? No. But they knew what my alternative was. I told people close to me that I planned on killing myself. So at that point, no one cared. They were just happy that I was alive.”
O’Callaghan said in 2014, he brought his then-boyfriend to an induction ceremony for the Shasta County Sports Hall of Fame and thanked him while he was on stage — but the incident went uncovered by the media.
Since then, although he hasn’t been outspoken about being gay, he also hasn’t tried to hide it, according to Outsports.
“Being gay wasn’t just a small detail in my life, it consumed it,” he told Outsports. “It’s all I would think about. But now that I have come out it rarely crosses my mind.”
O’Callaghan says he currently lives in Redding, Calif. — where he grew up — and has worked with local LGBT groups there.
“People need to understand that we are everywhere. We’re your sons, your daughters, your teammates, your neighbors,” he told Outsports. “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.”