Editor’s note: This story contains conversation and description of suicide.
Ryan O’Callaghan’s plan was always to play football and then, when his career was over, kill himself.
Growing up in Redding, Calif., he didn’t see any other option. From a deep red corner of a blue state, the conflicted young man had decided in high school that he would never — could never — live as a gay man. While the 6-foot-7, 330-pound offensive tackle didn’t fit any of the gay stereotypes, he decided shortly after coming out to himself in junior high school that he could never let anyone else in on his darkest secret.
Over the years he had heard general comments from friends and family members about gay people. Every utterance of a gay slur or a joke about gay men — and he heard them plenty when he was young — was like a knife to the gut.
“If you’re a gay kid and you hear someone you love say ‘fag,’ it makes you think that in their eyes you’re just a fag too,” O’Callaghan told Outsports on a recent visit to Los Angeles for his first-ever Pride celebration. “That got to me a lot.”
Growing up in a conservative area light years away from nearby San Francisco, his own views of gay people had been shaped by those off-color comments and the rare image on television showing a gay man he couldn’t relate to. He knew that the people in his world would never accept him being gay, and he could never truly accept it either.
O’Callaghan decided early on that he would hide behind football. The sport would be his “beard,” and the jersey on his back would throw off the scent and keep his secret hidden for over a dozen…
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