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18th Feb 2021

NFL player opens up on ‘paralysing’ process of coming out as bisexual

Former Bucs and Cowboys player Ryan Russell came out as bisexual in 2019, an experience he describes as 'daunting and 'paralysing'

Reuben Pinder

Ryan Russell came out as bisexual in 2019

The former Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills player had fought with his own sexual identity for years, until a shoulder injury sidelined him from American football in 2018.

It was during this time that he wrote an essay for ESPN, in which he publicly came out as bisexual.He has been out of the league since then, meaning that in the year 2021 the NFL has yet to see an openly gay or bisexual player take to the field.

Speaking to the BBC, he described the process of deciding to come out as “daunting and paralysing,” but said he’s “got to keep moving forward – I want to be the first, but never the last.”

Growing up in Texas, religion and football were the most important things for Russell and everyone in his community. But after moving away to college in Indiana, Russell had his first relationship with a man.

“In college, I thought, ‘Am I turning gay?’ I know now that you don’t turn gay,” he said.

Russell explained that he felt it would have been selfish to come out as gay, as he had reached a point in his career where he was finally able to provide for his mother, and didn’t want create any distractions.

“It felt almost selfish to come out. I thought, ‘I don’t want to be a distraction to my team, I don’t want to jeopardise our success on the field, and also my personal success or financial status’.

“I could only think of things to lose. I could never think of things to gain.

“Now I realise none of those reasons are worth my own health and wellbeing.”

The moment he realised he needed to come out for the sake of his own happiness was during his rehabilitation from a shoulder injury, during which time he didn’t know whether he would set foot on a football field again.

“My whole identity was based around football – and I didn’t know if I’d play again,” he said.

“I needed to find happiness – both in who I am and outside of what I do for work.

“That started me on my journey of self-love and self-acceptance.”