The entire month of June this summer was dedicated to the LGBTQ community as Pride Month. Many cities across the United States had parades and events celebrating the community and its growing rights and respect across the world. However, there still is not one publicly open member of the LGBTQ community in the NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL.
Ryan Russell is trying to change that. Russell is a defensive end that was drafted in 2015 by the Dallas Cowboys. He has played two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and is currently a free agent looking for work. In an article published on ESPN.com he iterates why he finally decided to come forward with his truth.
Russell has played only three seasons with the NFL and is already looking for a job for the upcoming season. Coming off a year battling a shoulder injury, he decided to come out after his last job interview. He felt proud of how he handled the interview but struggled with the fact that he was hiding who he truly is.
“Being an NFL-quality teammate takes more than just excelling on the field.” Russell said. “It comes with common trust built by knowing your teammate is physically and mentally fortified. You know the man next to you as well as you know yourself and you, in turn, trust him irrevocably. If you aren’t fully present and authentic in the training facility, you simply can’t be a standout teammate.”
Russell was not honest with himself or any of his teammates before this article came out.
Russell wishes to be able to live his life openly and freely. He talks about a rumor blogger that contacted him connecting the dots between his social media accounts and a male partner of Russell’s. He was almost outed, but the blogg did him a “favor” by not disclosing his sexual orientation.
“Nobody should need a favor to live honestly.” Russell said, “In nobody’s worlds should being careful mean not being yourself. The career you choose shouldn’t dictate the parts of yourself that you embrace.”
However, people have seen an open and honest living situation causes problems in the NFL. Most similar to Russel is Michael Sam. The Missouri Tiger alumni was drafted in the seventh round to the St. Louis Rams at the time. This was coming off a senior year where he earned co-defensive player of the year for the SEC. He never played an NFL regular season snap. Every other SEC defensive player of the year was drafted fifth round or higher, most in the top 3 rounds, and played at least one year in the NFL.
Russell even talks about watching other openly gay players out of the NFL inspire hope in him. That one day he will never have to hide his true colors again. It hasn’t happened yet. Colin Kaepernick has experienced a similar situation.
As Kaepernick continues to kneel for the National Anthem in order to bring attention to police brutality in troubled neighborhoods across the nation, he continues to be without a job. He sacrificed his career in attempt to bring social justice. In almost all other places around the nation those in the LGBTQ community are beginning to thrive.
The poor stigma of being a member of the LGBTQ community are dying, but it’s still present. Russell is doing his part to try and reduce the gap between the community and the rest of the world. He is attempting to bring the professional sports world at the highest level into the 21st century regarding sexual orientation. Why is it that there are no openly gay members in professional sports teams? The separation of the two worlds is obvious and even odd.
Pure statistics should prove that there are gay people within the professional sports world that hide their feelings. Now this might change. Russell may be the first of many to shock the world with his honesty. Does that mean sports will change? No! It will still be the same sport we know and love and will always watch with excitement and wide-eyed curiosity. But as Russell puts it “Whatever I was to you before this letter, I’m still that now. We just know each other a little better.”
As fans, we know our players just a little better. A little closer, which in the end is what, as fans, we truly want. We want to know our players beyond the playing field. Knowing this information will not change that, but rather make that truth even stronger.