‘I was scared to death’: Former Patriots lineman opens up on struggles of being a gay athlete

BOSTON, MA (WBZ) — Former Patriots lineman Ryan O’Callaghan spent his entire career hiding his sexuality from his teammates, his friends and his family. He is now sharing that battle in his new book, “My Life On The Line.”

He was a star offensive lineman on the best football team on earth, at the top of his game, and in the depths of despair.

“I was convinced family would never love me, friends would never love me, as an out gay man,” O’Callaghan said in an interview with WBZ-TV’s Liam Martin. “I was scared to death. It scared me to death. I instantly went in the closet.”

O’Callaghan had realized in his early teens, he’s gay, and in the socially conservative town in California where he grew up, he worried that would change everything. He decided the best cover for himself? Football.

“I didn’t think I could do a good enough job convincing a female that I was straight and I thought that would blow my cover, so I knew I was good enough for football pretty early on, definitely through college, and I just ran with it,” described O’Callaghan.

And boy, did he run with it. He was recruited to play at UC Berkeley and drafted by the Patriots in 2006. All the while hiding his sexuality and it eventually caught up with him.

He had a pretty disturbing section of the book where he revealed that he had a plan for what he was going to do when his football career came to an end.

“Growing up, I told you I jumped into the closet real quick, and I had a hard time ever taking a step back and thinking OK it might be OK,” O’Callaghan explained. “It never happened for me, so I decided I’d play football as long as I could and then end it. I didn’t have a long term plan or goals.”

He had plans to kill himself, even taking steps toward it in his final season. Abusing painkillers and pushing away his family.

Until a trainer on the Kansas City Chiefs intervened and convinced him to see the team psychologist. He eventually came out to her and then, his family.

“My mom just stood up and hugged me, and she thought something was really wrong with me; she thought I had like terminal cancer or something, so she was almost relieved that I was fine,” said O’Callaghan.

His dad adjusted over time as well. And so did his former teammates, many who reached out by phone to offer support. He also got a call from Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

“He told me it took a lot of courage to do what I did, that he knew other people were going to be able to look up to me, that he was proud of me,” O’Callaghan said.

Now, he’s sharing the story in a new book, all the proceeds of which will go to his foundation, which will give scholarships to LGBTQ athletes.

“I try to make sure I tell people how good it feels when you can finally be yourself, and that weight that’s off your shoulders,” he said.

O’Callaghan is back in Boston to promote that new book, and he says he hopes his story will encourage other gay athletes to stick with it.

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