NFL hero RK Russell urges athletes to fight ‘attacks’ on trans kids in powerful essay

Maggie Baska
·3-min read

NFL veteran Ryan “RK” Russell has penned a powerful message in support of trans kids amid a waves of legislation targeting transgender student athletes.

The former Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers player argued in an essay for The Guardian that sport is “one of the strongest conduits to help show society what it is capable of when we come together”. But he said it had to be “used for the better of all of us” – not as a way to exclude a section of humanity.

Russell, who came out as bisexual in 2019, shared that he found “family, support, love and encouragement in sports, teammate, coaches and competition”. He argued that trans children “can’t even pick up a ball without legislation telling them they don’t belong”.

This lack of opportunity for trans kids to play sports means they are losing the “potential to be great athletes”, he wrote, or “at the very least, find love and joy in sports”.

“Being born Black, queer, trans or of any marginalised community puts you behind the starting line of any race, even when you might need that love and community more than we imagine,” Russell said.

Russell said his NFL peers all needed “someone to give them a shot”, or “they would have never made it”.

“Trans kids need this too,” he continued. “They need to be treated like kids like they are worthy of the opportunity to play, to find love and community on the field.

“Everyone is worthy of this.”

Russell said sports teach children about “hard work, value, determination” and “introduces us to the notion of a team that feels like a family”. It also “allows everyone to feel connected to a common goal”, he said.

“Isn’t it important for trans children more than most to feel the belonging of a team, especially when society is questioning if they belong at all?” Russell asked.

He called on athletes to stand up against the “more than 200 anti-trans bills” currently making their way through state legislatures and dismantle the narrative that bans on trans athletes will “protect” cisgender girls and women. Russell said the bills are an “attack”, and athletes – and people in general – “need to defend ourselves”, “our trans youth” and “equality”.

“Don’t let anyone use the games that we love for hate,” Russell said. “Don’t let them distract from what’s really going on.”

Russell is the latest sporting hero to speak out against attempts to exclude trans athletes.

American soccer star Megan Rapinoe has decried anti-trans bans as an “intense political assault on LGBTQ people”.

Rapinoe and lesbian sporting icon Billie Jean King were also among 176 current and former athletes in women’s sports who signed an amicus brief urging courts to toss out a bill that prevented trans girls from taking part in sports in Idaho. Other prominent signatories included Becky Sauerbrunn, Candace Parker, Meghan Duggan, Layshia Clarendon and Katie Sowers.

WWE stars Mickie James and Gabbi Tuft have also come out swinging for trans rights. Tuft, who came out as trans earlier this year, said legislation “banning transgender children participating in sports will be a death sentence to some“. She implored lawmakers to “let the kids play”.

James, who has won six WWE women’s championship titles, artfully dismantled internet trolls who came after her when she said Arizona “can leave” after the state banned trans kids from sports.