Former NFL player Ryan O'Callaghan always thought he would kill himself before he ever told anyone he was gay. Instead, he's coming out publicly for the first time in an interview with Outsports.
After battling suicidal thoughts and a painkiller addiction as a way to manage his anxiety and shame over being gay, O'Callaghan says he wants to help other people who might be struggling as well.
The former offensive lineman for both the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs says he used football as a way to mask 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." He says he saw playing in the NFL not just as a career path, but as a way to continue to keep his sexuality under wraps and stay alive, certain that once he stopped playing football, he would have to take his own life to avoid having to come out.
He credits staff within the Chiefs organization with providing the support necessary for him to live as his authentic self — first to them, then to his family and friends, and eventually, to the world. In 2014, Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL. Several players have come out since retiring, including Wade Davis, Jr. Davis is one of the main subjects of a new documentary about the National Gay Flag Football League called F(L)AG FOOTBALL.
Davis told Refinery 29 that he hopes the film will provide visibility and reframe how we imagine LGBT individuals to exist in the context of sporting world. "It will help change narratives; this film is a beautiful story of struggle, triumph, and vulnerability," he says. "We need to keep adding more narratives about what it means to exist in this world as gay." Since retiring, Davis now works as the Executive Director for the You Can Play organization, which works to provide accessibility and accessible spaces for LGBTQ athletes.
Seth Greenleaf, the director and producer of the film, tells Refinery 29 that to show football players as these "hypermasculine, athletic guys who are gay breaks the stereotype people have in their minds" about what it means to be a gay man. "I think it's important to break stereotypes when you have the opportunity," he says.
When O'Callaghan came out to a therapist and then a coach in the Chiefs organization, he says it was a huge relief. Now, he's choosing to tell his story in the hopes that other people don't have to suffer in silence and shame the way he did. He tells Outsports, "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."
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.
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