“Do your job.” It’s become a popular mantra across the NFL, emanating from Foxborough and seeping into every locker room aiming to achieve success.
For former Kansas City Chiefs head trainer David Price, he was just doing his job when he sent offensive tackle Ryan O’Callaghan on the first steps of a six-month journey that would eventually save the player’s life.
Price had noticed erratic behavior by O’Callaghan in his final year with the Chiefs, in 2011. Suspecting an abuse of pain killers, Price suggested O’Callaghan visit with the team’s clinical psychologist, Susan Wilson, to get help. O’Callaghan chronicled Price’s intervention in his coming-out story on Outsports earlier this week.
"There was definitely a long-standing use of medications that needed to be addressed [with Ryan],” Price told Outsports in an phone interview Wednesday. “My job was to get him in there to see Susan Wilson, and then it was out of my hands. I just wanted to know that he was OK and came out of it OK."
It was during those visits with Wilson that O’Callaghan revealed to her he was gay and planning suicide. She in turn convinced him to abandon his suicide plans and come out in his life.
Price, who now lives with his wife, Jennifer, 20 miles north of Charlotte, N.C., hadn’t kept track of O’Callaghan after he sent the player to Wilson simply because there was so much to tend to on the 53-man roster.
"I just totally forgot about it because you move on to other alarms you have to deal with,” Price said. “At the time I didn't realize it was as big of a deal as it obviously was. But you put people in the right context, show them the way, and you hope they get well. But in the end you really don't know what's going on because it's a private deal.”
Price said he always treated all of his players with equal respect and a high level of professionalism, so this situation was not treated any differently.
Still, Price had gotten to know O’Callaghan well and very much cared for his well-being. The offensive tackle’s six-year NFL career was plagued with injuries, the worst of which was to his left shoulder, forcing him into Price’s facilities more than most players.
"He had some bad injuries that needed surgery and rehab, so we got to know each other really well,” Price said. “He was a kind soul and I think a misunderstood guy because he was very methodical. All the California guys can be a little different in their own way. I didn't think of him as different in another other way other than he's a California guy.”
Price said he had heard years ago that O’Callaghan was gay, and it didn’t affect him at all. He worked in the NFL for about 30 years, starting with the Philadelphia Eagles in the early Eighties. He’d seen all walks of life during his career, so “nothing shocks me,” he said. He certainly was not shocked by a gay athlete.
“If he was [gay], so be it,” Price said. “It never came into my mindset that it bothered me, or I was uncomfortable. I enjoyed working with him and rehabbing him, and his sexual orientation didn't matter to me."
He was driving home from an Eagles reunion on Tuesday when his phone started buzzing more than usual as colleagues and former players texted him with messages of “good job” and “you saved another life.” Price didn’t know what they were talking about until someone pointed him to O’Callaghan’s coming-out article.
The trainer, who hasn’t worked in the NFL since the Chiefs let him go in 2012, thinks his profession misunderstood and unheralded in sports. If he showed up at a team meeting, he said, it usually meant bad news, earning him nicknames like “Dr. Doom” and “The Grim Reaper.” The trainer was generally the last guy you wanted to have to see.
Price doesn’t think he did anything particularly heroic, but he is so pleased at the outcome of the action he took in 2011 with O’Callaghan.
"All of the other 31 [head trainers] in the league would have done the same thing I did,” he said. “We're caretakers. And it's nice to have something refreshing come out, a positive story that came out of things. It made my year just hearing the story and that I was even mentioned, because it was one of those things you just do and you never hear about it how it turned out."
Thankfully for O’Callaghan, it turned out well, all beginning with Price just doing his job.