Ryan O’Callaghan lived a tortured existence throughout his four-season NFL career, including two with the Chiefs, and considered suicide.
Such was the life of a gay man who hadn’t told anyone of his sexual orientation.
O’Callaghan’s life began to turn in a positive direction with the help of conversations with a woman who currently serves as a UMKC vice chancellor and then-Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli.
O’Callgahan’s story is detailed in an OutSports.com story by Cyd Zeigler titled, “Former Patriots and Chiefs tackle Ryan O’Callaghan comes out as gay.”
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O’Callaghan appeared in 10 games for the Chiefs in 2010 but the team placed him on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury before the 2011 season. O’Callaghan wouldn’t play again.
That’s when the spiral accelerated. In the story, O’Callaghan said prescriptions were easy to obtain and one day he downed 30 Vicodin.
“I was abusing painkillers, no question,” O’Callaghan said in the story. “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.”
His thoughts turned to suicide. O’Callaghan started to make plans, including building a small cabin on his property outside Kansas City, where he intended to end his life.
In 2011, O’Callaghan was encouraged by the Chiefs to visit Susan Wilson, a UMKC official who has counseled players on drug abuse. Wilson is a licensed clinical psychologist and serves as the Vice Chancellor of the Division of Diversity and Inclusion.
Wilson told The Star that she soon realized the issue wasn’t simply pain killers, and Wilson became the first person O’Callaghan told of his sexual orientation.
“We talked about how his fear was driving him to want to commit suicide,” she said, “and it was a fear of what the team would say, what his parents would say, fear about what his friends would say.
“What I told him was, before taking that drastic step that has no return, the best way to confront fear is to gather information. First start with someone you feel comfortable with and see if your worst fears come true. See if they reject you or scorn you.”
O’Callaghan put in a call to Pioli.
They had worked together in New England, the team that had drafted O’Callaghan from California and where he spent his first two seasons. Pioli was the vice president of player personnel there when he was hired by the Chiefs as general manager in 2009. The Chiefs claimed O’Callaghan off waivers from the Patriots in September 2009, and he was in the starting lineup at right tackle within one month.
This time, O’Callaghan would reach out to Pioli, who had known about the drug abuse, according to the story. O’Callaghan, then 27, informed Pioli that he was gay.
“People like me are supposed to react in a certain way,” Pioli told OutSports. “What Ryan didn’t know is how many gay people I’ve had in my life.”
Their conversation, Pioli told O’Callaghan, changed nothing. They were friends and Pioli said he was there to support him.
O’Callaghan started coming out to family and friends and found support. Among those he shared his story with was Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt.
O’Callaghan’s life has turned. Today, lives near his family in Redding, Calif., and has done work for a local LGBT organization. He told OutSports that he wanted to share his story to help other gay people who struggle in communicating their concerns or fears, especially those who, like him, considered suicide.
“I see it as a final form of liberation,” Wilson said.