Ryan Russell recently came out as bisexual in an essay he wrote for ESPN. The three-year NFL veteran also began a YouTube channel with his boyfriend, Corey. The couple uploaded their first video the same day Russell's essay was released. In the video, Russell talks at length about his journey of self-realization, struggle, and eventual coming out.
Russell was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 2015, following his stellar career at Purdue University. After playing one season with the Cowboys, he played two for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His impressive period with the Bucs saw him starting a total of seven games.
In his YouTube video, Russell admitted to toying with the idea of never coming out. While many would consider this a rough move, he seemed surprisingly OK with it. Russell felt that, being bisexual, he could just date women and his attraction to men may never have come up. According to him, he didn't want to make things difficult for himself if he didn't need to. While he initially perceived this as a perk of bisexuality, Russell soon realized that wasn't the case.
The fact of the matter is, Russell's attraction to men was still a part of him. When one deliberately keeps something from someone else, it's going to eat away at them. When Russell began dating, he had relationships with both women and men. In fact, it was after a painful breakup with a guy that Russell felt his secret yearning to get out. With all the pain he was in, Russell needed to speak about it, but he was closeted. This is when Russell began his coming out process.
Now that he was open in his personal life, Russell still had to decide whether or not to come out in his professional life. He claims that while he was open to select teammates, it was mostly kept secret. Whenever he had his male date come to a game, he would introduce him as a "best friend." Russell once again felt it wouldn't be difficult to keep his sexuality a secret during his football career. As he put it, one's football career doesn't last long in the big picture. However, the loss of a friend influenced Russell's decision to come out, because it made him realize how precious life is.
Russell is now a free agent and the future of his football career remains uncertain. Hopefully, he continues to play and gets drafted by another team. Future activity and success would be the ideal outcome of his coming out. For one thing, it would show that a player's sexual orientation isn't a big deal. It would also be a symbol of much-needed progress in a number of areas.
Bisexual people still have a long way to go when it comes to general acceptance. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who don't understand bisexuality. A lot of people think bisexuality doesn't exist. Many people think it's just something gay and lesbian people say before they're ready to come out. It's almost viewed as testing the waters before revealing one's true sexuality. It's often been invalidated by people and it's still going on. For someone like Russell to be open and remain a successful player would be a big statement.
There's also those who feel uncomfortable with men who are attracted to other men. In 2014, a Washington lobbyist named Jack Burkman tried to ban gay and bisexual men from playing in the NFL. He claimed that there was a risk of inappropriate behavior in the locker room. It's clear to me that throwing all gay and bisexual men in a box filled with rapists and predators in unfair. It's also clear to me that a gay or bisexual player seeing another player's body shouldn't be an issue.
For one thing, like heterosexuals, gay and bisexual men aren't attracted to every man they see. However, even if they did enjoy the view in the locker room, it doesn't necessarily mean they're going to make the other players uncomfortable. Lots of gay and bisexual men have the capability to control themselves. Merely looking at someone and feeling attraction isn't a bad thing. This is something Burkman and some fellow NFL players should understand. And if a fellow player possibly being attracted to you makes you uncomfortable, you're the one with the issue.
In the current year, these are topics that many don't talk about as much. We're in a climate where people don't want to offend anybody. You won't hear many players talking about their discomfort with gay and bisexual men, because they know they'll lose their career if they do. But I'm sure it still exists in some people. These are still issues that exist in our culture. By Russell's coming out, we could potentially make progress on these issues.
Merely staying silent doesn't produce change. If Russell stayed silent about his sexuality, he wouldn't have grown liberated with himself. It also wouldn't force those players who are uncomfortable to grow in their views and understanding. Being open about his sexual orientation was the right move for Russell to make. Hopefully this leads to more progress within the NFL and hopefully that progress extends to the rest of the world.