Ryan Russell is hoping to make a comeback to the NFL, and the free agent defensive end would make history if he does.
In an essay published by ESPN on Thursday, the former Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers player came out as bisexual and said he can no longer live with keeping that part of his life concealed. While Russell said he didn’t feel as if he were lying to teammates and coaches, he believed that withholding the information was a form of deceit.
“And I want the next part of my career – and life – steeped in trust and honesty,” he said in an as-told-to article. “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.”
The defensive end from Purdue was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys but was cut after one season. Russell last played for the Buccaneers in 2017 and said he is hoping to sign with another team — but only if he can do so openly.
There has never been an athlete to come out as gay or bisexual while playing in a major American sport, though a number have come out after their careers came to an end. Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam came out as gay prior to the 2014 NFL Draft, where he was picked by the St. Louis Rams, but he was never able to make an active roster.
In a new book, former New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs tackle Ryan O’Callaghan, who came out as gay after he retired from the NFL, said that gay and bisexual players are actually prevalent throughout the league.
“I think it’s safe to say there’s at least one on every team who is either gay or bisexual,” he said, via Daily Mail.
O’Callaghan added that for many of these in-the-closet players, they are fearful of the potential consequences they could face for coming out.
In his essay for ESPN, Russell said he was well aware that there has never been an openly gay athlete in a major American sport, and hoped he could be the first.
“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,” Russell said.