First and Goal for Ryan O’Callaghan
Being first is never easy. It wasn’t easy for Lewis and Clarke, Jackie Robinson, or Rosa Parkes and it can’t be easy for Ryan O’Callaghan. Earlier this summer, O’Callaghan broke ground and smashed cliche and stereotype by letting the world know he is gay. In many parts of the modern world, we greet that declaration with a lackluster “oh” but that wasn’t O’ Callaghan’s world. He is from a rural corner of California and while much of the country thinks of California as deeply liberal, the truth is much of the state is rural and highly conservative. Steeped and shame, O’Callaghan excelled in a system that was perfect for him to hide his truth; football. He became a highly sought after offensive lineman for Cal which landed him in the NFL. Ultimately, it was with the help of a therapist that O’Callaghan revealed his sexuality to himself, his family and to the millions of fans of the NFL. His courage challenges much of red state America’s perception of a gay man. I have had the pleasure of speaking with O’Callaghan and I found him to be bright, articulate, and most importantly, genuinely concerned about other athletes who may be living in shame about being gay. He is a true pioneer with the chutzpah to share his truth for the sake of the young men and women who may come behind in the trail he blazes. This week O’Callaghan upped the ante and told his story of addiction to pain killers and while he may not understand the depth of this declaration, to millions hungry for a voice, his revelation about managing his addiction is just as vital as his honesty about being gay.
Like many NFL players, O’Callaghan was given powerful opiate medications to manage the pain from inevitable football injuries. As an added hurdle, O’Callaghan openly told me that the copious opiates helped with reaching the point of indifference about the shame O’Callaghan felt about being gay. That kind of insight is often 20 years of therapy. The opiates were working for him on two levels, killing both physical and emotional pain. Like many, opiates became a severe problem for him and to his great credit, O’Callaghan sought help. This week O’Callaghan spoke about how he manages both pain and addiction and it comes in a surprising form for many:medicinal cannabis.
For many, management of chronic pain is a nagging gum on your shoe issue. This seems universal for retired NFL players. Why then is cannabis not an option for them? With no known lethal does and minimal side effects, it seems like an obvious choice to at the least, give players that option. Having young men addicted to opiates in a culture that supports drinking, is insane policy. In really terms, a man of 30 with a chronic injury is in total compliance with law and NFL policy to have a bottle of Vicodin and a bottle of vodka but cannabis is a violation. In other words, risk your lives as long as our brand isn’t tarnished. O’Callaghan joins the ranks of a growing number of NFL players who are successful in using cannabis as pain management. O’ Callaghan is leading the pack because he is showing that it is possible to not only circumvent opiates but also to replace them after a problem has hatched.
At High Sobriety we take plenty of ridicule and pushback for our belief that cannabis has the potential to be an exit drug. That’s totally fine, we are grown ups, we chose this path freely, we’re trained clinicians and rabble rousers. Our fight is in no way the same as Ryan O’Callaghan but we’re in his boat and we support him. We support his bravery, his right to self determine and his willingness to walk a different path and let the public watch him do it. We hope his example paves the way for other young gay athletes and for others who don’t fit into the current paradigm of what addiction is. Well done, Ryan.
Author: Joe Schrank