NFL veteran Ryan Russell said he felt “paralysed” by his sexuality after he decided to come out as bisexual – but is determined to keep moving forward.
The defensive tight end opened up about his sexuality in 2019 after he was forced out of the sport due to a shoulder injury.
Russell told BBC Sport that he wants to rejoin the NFL, but admitted that for as long as he can remember, self-doubt, prejudice and media coverage have kept him from “living the truth”.
In the NFL’s over a century of history, no openly gay or bisexual athlete has been featured in a regular-season football game.
Now, Russell wants to change that. “It’s scary, daunting and paralysing, but I’ve got to keep moving forward – I want to be the first, but never the last,” he said.
Ryan Russell wants to change sport
Russell played for the NFL for three years before he was forced out of professional football. He was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 2015 after a successful college career at Purdue. He played one season for the Cowboys and two for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He was signed by the Buffalo Bills for the 2018 season before the team trimmed their roster to meet league regulations. It was also in 2018 that Russell had to leave the NFL due to a shoulder injury.
In August 2019, he came out publicly as bisexual in an essay for ESPN. He wrote that he had two goals: returning to the NFL and “living my life openly”. Russell argued those two objectives “shouldn’t be in conflict”, but it was hard to argue with the fact that there are no openly LGBT+ athletes in the NFL.
“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 to pause,” Russell said. “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.”
There have only been 14 openly gay or bi players in the NFL’s 101-year history, including Russell. All of these players revealed their sexuality after they had left professional football.
Bi-erasure in the media
Russell admitted to BBC Sport that part of his reluctance to come out while he was an athlete was because of the negative view of bisexuality in the media and even the LGBT+ community. He said: “There’s a lot of bi-erasure in our culture and in media.”
He said he had received negative comments after coming out, which was a “little disheartening at first”, but he feels more comfortable in his life and sexuality now as a result of being open.