Former NFL player Ryan Russell, who hopes to rejoin the league, has come out as bisexual.
Russell, a defensive end with the Dallas Cowboys in 2015 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016 and 2017, came out in column posted today on ESPN.com. He and his boyfriend Corey also posted a video to YouTube.
“My truth is that I’m a talented football player, a damn good writer, a loving son, an overbearing brother, a caring friend, a loyal lover, and a bisexual man,” he said in the column, as told to reporter Kevin Arnovitz. “Today, I have two goals: returning to the NFL, and living my life openly. I want to live my dream of playing the game I’ve worked my whole life to play, and being open about the person I’ve always been.”
He had met with an NFL team in early August about the possibility of a contract for the upcoming season, but the team didn’t end up signing him. “What they know about me, they like — but there was one very important detail about my life they weren’t familiar with,” he noted. That’s what he shared today.
“This is the last time I will ever interview for a job as anything other than my full self,” he said. “Out of love, admiration and respect, I want the next team to sign me valuing me for what I do and knowing who I truly am.”
Being an openly bisexual man and playing in the NFL “shouldn’t be in conflict,” he continued in the column. “But judging from the fact that there isn’t a single openly LGBTQ player in the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball or the NHL, brings me pause. I want to change that — for me, for other athletes who share these common goals, and for the generations of LGBTQ athletes who will come next.”
Michael Sam in 2014 became the first out gay player to be drafted into the NFL, but he ended up playing only in a preseason game, then went to the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes. He left pro football in 2015. Some NFL players have come out after retiring, such as Dave Kopay in the 1970s, Esera Tuaolo in 2002, and Ryan O’Callaghan just two years ago.
In the YouTube video, Russell said for a long time he didn’t feel he needed to come out, as he was dating women as well as men and thought he might eventually spend his life with a woman. He finally decided, though, to open up about his identity, adding that he might be able to help others in the process.
Key factors that influenced his decision were a severe shoulder injury that ended his stint with the Buccaneers, the death from cancer of his best friend, Joseph Gilliam, and the depression that followed these events. “Truth became a part of my survival,” he said in the ESPN column.
A blogger raised the possibility of outing Russell after his first NFL season but ultimately did him the “favor” of not publishing the story. “Let that sink into your brain: Even though openly LGBTQ people are thriving in every area of public life — politics, entertainment, the top corporations in America — they are so invisible in pro sports that a gossip blogger is doing a favor for a bisexual football player by not disclosing that he happens to date men,” Russell noted on ESPN.com. “Nobody should need a favor to live honestly.”
He expressed confidence that the NFL can accommodate out queer players and that their colleagues will care only about performance on the field. “There are a lot of problems in the world, and a lot of issues facing the NFL,” he said. “And I can say with confidence that LGBTQ players having the comfort to be themselves, date who they want, share parts of their life with friends and teammates will not rank among those issues.”
Russell was the subject of numerous congratulatory tweets, including some from out athletes and activists.