Ryan O'Callaghan, who played college football at Cal and in the NFL with the Patriots and Chiefs, hasn't played in an NFL game since 2010. But on Tuesday, he still found a way to impact current and future NFL players by telling his story to OutSports.com's Cyd Zeigler.
The short version of his story is this: O'Callaghan, who came out as gay, hid his sexual orientation through football. He never told anyone, and had always planned on committing suicide once his football career was over because, as Zeigler wrote, "he had decided many years ago that he would never -- could never -- live life as an openly gay man."
Thankfully, members of the Chiefs staff convinced O'Callaghan not to take his own life.
As Zeigler reported in the story, O'Callaghan started abusing painkillers in 2011 after an injury effectively ended his playing career.
"I was abusing painkillers, no question," he said. "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 then began isolating himself from his friends and family. At his cabin near Kansas City, he had guns and a suicide note that was already written.
But he was still attending physical therapy at the Chiefs facility. There, the Chiefs' head trainer, David Price, realized something was wrong. So, Price recommended that O'Callaghan spend some time talking with Susan Wilson, who had counseled NFL players about drug abuse.
"David saw the pain pills as the problem, and they were," O'Callaghan said. "But the real problem was why I was abusing them. And it wasn't just the injuries."
Wilson realized that the source of the problem was bigger than painkillers. Eventually, O'Callaghan told her that he was gay. Wilson helped him realize that he didn't need to kill himself. He ended up coming out to those he knew -- from Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli to his family and friends.
"Was it great at the beginning?" O'Callaghan said. "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's story comes three years after Michael Sam became the NFL's first openly gay player. Sam, a seventh-round pick of the Rams in 2014, never played in an NFL game. He was cut by the Rams before the season began and wound up on the Cowboys' practice squad before getting cut again that October. He hasn't been on an NFL roster since, but Sam later revealed that gay players around the league thanked him for his courage.
Hopefully, O'Callaghan's story can be used as an inspiration and an important lesson.
"People need to understand that we are everywhere. We're your sons, your daughters, your teammates, your neighbors. And honestly, even some of your husbands and wives. You just don't know it yet," he said.
"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."
The entire story, which explains O'Callaghan's experience as a gay person in the NFL and college, is worth a read. You can do so at OutSports.com.