NFL free agent Ryan Russell has come out as bisexual. If he is picked up by a team and plays in a regular season game, he will make league history.
The defensive end came out in an essay published by ESPN on Thursday.
“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,” Russell wrote in the revealing and emotional article.
“Have I lied to teammates, coaches, trainers, front-office executives and fans about who I am? Not exactly. But withholding information is a form of deceit. And I want the next part of my career—and life—steeped in trust and honesty. During the season you spend more time with your team than with your own family; truth and honesty are the cornerstones of a winning culture. 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.”
Russell said he now has two goals: returning to the NFL and living his life openly.
He was picked up by the Dallas Cowboys in 2015, but it was at Tampa Bay where he began to come into his own as a professional athlete, playing in eight games in 2016. He followed that up with 14 appearances and seven starts in 2017, and while he suffered a shoulder injury, he managed to return, racking up two sacks in the final two games of the season. He was not re-signed by Tampa Bay, however, and was instead picked up by the Buffalo Bills, who released him in September of last year.
The 27-year-old said he lived in fear of being outed, and that he “prayed countless nights for God to take away this part of me.” Now he hopes he can be an inspiration to LGBTQ athletes, and change the culture of the NFL and other professional sports for the better.
“It’s so much better than hiding and holding it in and just kind of repressing myself,” Russell told The New York Times by phone. “I think the NFL is definitely ready to accept an openly LGBTQ player.”
The announcement comes on the heels of former NFL lineman Ryan O’Callaghan, who came out as gay after leaving the league, saying he believes there is at least one gay or bisexual player on every NFL team, as he has heard from a number of current players who are too afraid to be open about their orientation.
While Michael Sam became the first openly LGBTQ player to be drafted by an NFL team in 2014, he did not appear in a regular season game.