The California Golden Bears had their best offensive line performances in the early 2000s. One of the mainstays of that squad up front is Ryan O’Callaghan, who helped open wide running lanes for Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett and JJ Arrington and protect Aaron Rodgers.
O’Callaghan would win the Morris Trophy in 2005, awarded to the best Pac-12 offensive lineman.
Today, O’Callaghan opened up his sexuality, coming out as gay.
Former NFL tackle Ryan O’Callaghan shares his struggle with being gay (and closeted) in the NFL: pic.twitter.com/JXZE3qbwXS— SB Nation (@SBNation) June 20, 2017
O’Callaghan struggled with suicidal thoughts throughout his football career, trying to conceal his sexuality and maintain strength in a hyper-masculine world. He had one such experience at Berkeley that shaped his experiences. More from Cyd Zeigler of Outsports:
Soon after arriving in Berkeley he found another perfect cover. He was out with his teammates when a cute young woman, a fellow Golden Bear, came across their table. She ordered a drink, said hello to the guys and — of all the athletes sitting around the table — sat right on O’Callaghan’s lap.
He had spent countless nights imagining what to do in a scenario such as this, all to make sure that no one would suspect he was gay. What would he say? What would he do? He had envisioned this very moment over and over again. He was well prepared and he played the role perfectly.
After some small talk, he left with the young woman on his arm, making sure his teammates could see him. O’Callaghan was now, he figured, undeniably straight.
"That bought me a couple years," he said, nodding. "Because once they see you leave with someone, that’s different from them just seeing me talk with them."
Things got darker and tougher for O’Callaghan in the NFL, where he masked his external and internal pain with painkillers.
O’Callaghan had found them years earlier as he battled injuries, but in 2011 the pain of his injuries and his sexual orientation became so much to bear that be began to abuse them. He says prescriptions were easy to get as the big offensive tackle begged for more. O’Callaghan remembers one day in particular when he took 30 Vicodin. It would have killed a normal man, but not an NFL offensive tackle who had started taking the drug regularly.
"I was abusing painkillers, no question," he said matter-of-factly. "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. I just didn’t worry."
He was also spending money recklessly. In the final months of 2011 he says he was spending $400 a day on drugs. He plunked another $70,000 into building a small cabin on his property outside of Kansas City where he intended to eventually end his life.
"I started spending all my money to put myself in a position where it would be impossible, or at least extremely difficult, to back out of killing myself."
Eventually O’Callaghan confided in people he trusted like Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, and began to find ways to manage the pain.
“Ryan, how would I have known?” Scott Pioli responded.
“Do you really think I like coffee that much?” O’Callaghan asked.
Pioli had no idea what his player was talking about.
O’Callaghan had, since his time in New England, headed to the training room after every practice to consume copious amounts of coffee, a convenient excuse to avoid being in the showers with the rest of his teammates.
Pioli got emotional at the thought of one of his players having to go to those lengths to keep some distance from his teammates. The mental toll this had all taken on O’Callaghan had come into focus.
It should be noted that Rodgers was one of the first people O’Callaghan confided in, and Aaron was quick to offer his support of his former teammate.
Now retired, O’Callaghan is on permanent disability due to his NFL injuries. He has returned to his hometown of Redding, where being near his family has provided him support he felt he lacked elsewhere.
I encourage you to read the full story on Ryan at Outsports. It’s well worth your time.
All of Bear Territory is rooting for you Ryan.
To help support Ryan, you can find Ryan O’Callaghan on Facebook. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.