June 20 (UPI) -- Ryan O'Callaghan played four seasons in the NFL. This week he came out as gay.
The former offensive lineman described the experience of being gay, while playing in the NFL, for Out Sports.
O'Callaghan, 33, was picked in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He played two years for the New England Patriots before landing on injured reserve for the 2008 season. The Kansas City Chiefs claimed the 6-foot, 7-inch, 330-pound lineman in 2009. He started 13 games for the Chiefs in the next two seasons, but landed on injured reserve again in 2011.
After playing out the final year of his $1.759 million contract, he went unsigned in free agency.
According to the Out Sports article, O'Callaghan contemplated suicide but decided to continue his life after getting help from people within the Chiefs' organization.
O'Callaghan said that he used football as a "good place to hide" throughout his life, starting in high school.
That hiding continued when he showed up on campus at Cal Berkley.
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 went on to win the Pac-10's Morris Trophy, the award given to the best offensive lineman in the conference. He became close friends with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the man he was tasked to protect.
He would go on to protect arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady.
"In high school, football turned into a way to go to college," O'Callaghan told Out Sports. "In college football was a great cover for being gay. And then I saw the NFL mainly as a way to keep hiding my sexuality and stay alive."
When he joined the Patriots, the rookie would tell teammates that he was dating "a girl back home."
But more nagging injuries also followed, leading O'Callaghan to painkillers.
He began to abuse the painkillers after his football career had ended and he no longer had the game to use as a shield. He told Out Sports that he used 30 Vicodin once and was spending $400 daily on drugs in 2011. He built a cabin outside of Kansas City where he planned to commit suicide.
O'Callaghan eventually came out of the closet to a counselor, who worked with the NFL and the Chiefs.
Still, he kept his plans in place. His cabin housed several guns and a written suicide note.
But O'Callaghan persisted to live on. He came out to Pioli, the Chiefs' general manager at the time, but didn't get the response he expected. The current Atlanta Falcons assistant general manager welcomed the news with open arms, literally giving O'Callaghan a hug and warm reception.
"People like me are supposed to react a certain way, I guess," Pioli told Out Sports. "I wasn't minimizing what he was telling me, but I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. He built this up and built this up to the point where he said he was nearly suicidal. What Ryan didn't know is how many gay people I've had in my life."
The lineman also came out to friends and family. His family also helped him manage his addiction to painkillers.
O'Callaghan became more comfortable coming out in public. In 2014, he brought his boyfriend to the Shasta County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
"Being gay wasn't just a small detail in my life, it consumed it," he told Out Sports. "It's all I would think about. But now that I have come out it rarely crosses my mind. Yeah I'd go about my daily life in football, but thinking about hiding it and hoping no one finds out and being ready for any situation was exhausting."
O'Callaghan now works with a local LGBT organization and hopes to help other struggling LGBT people.
According to the CDC, United States males are more likely to commit suicide at nearly four times the rate of females. Males represent 79 percent of all suicides in the United States. Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are at even more of a risk for suicide attempts, especially those younger than 25. Gay, lesbian and bisexual youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to the CDC.
The CDC also reports that studies have shown that gay and bisexual men, and lesbian and transgender individuals are more likely than heterosexual people to use alcohol or drugs and have higher rates of substance abuse.
"This story has been a long time coming," O'Callaghan said on Facebook Tuesday. "I hope I'm able to help other gay people in sports, as some people were there to help me when I needed it most. Proud to be a part of this community. Thank you Cyd Zeigler and the guys from SB Nation for giving me a platform!"
In 2014, Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL. He was drafted by the St. Louis Rams and also spent time with the Dallas Cowboys, but never played a regular-season down. Sam retired in 2015, citing mental health concerns.