Free agent defensive end Ryan Russell revealed Thursday that he is bisexual, telling his story through ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz in a piece posted to ESPN.com.
Currently looking to get back into the league after missing last season with a shoulder injury, the 27-year-old Russell said that after he met with an NFL team earlier this month, he told himself, “This is the last time I will ever interview for a job as anything other than my full self.”
“Have I lied to teammates, coaches, trainers, front-office executives and fans about who I am? Not exactly,” Russell continued. “But withholding information is a form of deceit. And I want the next part of my career — and life — steeped in trust and honesty. … 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.”
The Dallas Cowboys selected Russell out of Purdue in the fifth round of the 2015 draft. After playing in one game as a rookie, Russell signed with Tampa Bay. In two seasons with the Buccaneers, he played in 23 games and started six, registering 20 tackles and three sacks. According to Russell, a shoulder injury suffered during the 2017 season limited his performance, led to offseason surgery, and kept him off a roster last season.
After failing to land on a team last season and losing his best friend and college teammate Joe Gilliam to cancer, Russell said he moved to Los Angeles where he continued to recover from his injury, began to write stories and dated openly.
“In many ways, the past year of my life has been the most fulfilling, even if I wasn’t able to play a snap in the NFL,” he said. “I guess I always knew that healthy romantic relationships, supportive communities and meaningful hobbies make life more purposeful and less stressful. But until I started existing day-to-day in that kind of life, I didn’t realize how true it was.”
He said he believes openly LGBTQ players do have a place in the NFL, and that teams, coaches and players are far too concerned with players’ contributions on the field to be worried about their sexuality.
“The NFL is a multibillion-dollar entertainment entity with the power to create working conditions that allow LGBTQ people to perform their jobs like everyone else,” he said. “NFL teams who worry about the ‘distractions’ that would come with additional media coverage have skilled PR professionals who understand that there are bigger issues on Sunday afternoon than a quarterback being asked, ‘What’s it like having a bisexual teammate?’
“There are a lot of problems in the world, and a lot of issues facing the NFL. 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.”