Sexuality in football is currently under the microscope. Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib this month became the first active NFL player to come out as gay, and while historic, it was also a moment of reflection for Ryan Russell.
The league immediately lent support behind Nassib’s announcement. On Monday, it went a step further by releasing a video pledging support to LGBTQ community with a declaration that football is all-inclusive.
It was a different experience for Russell, however, who in August 2019 announced that he is bisexual, and hasn’t played a game in the league since. The reaction to his coming out was vastly different from Nassib’s, and as a Black athlete he was met with racism in addition to homophobia.
“You see Carl Nassib come out now, and I would hope that the times are becoming more accepting and it’s the progress of the groundwork from a Michael Sam, a Jason Collins, of myself, that makes this seem more accepted or praised even,” Russell told The Undefeated. “But it’s hard to not think about (Nassib) is a white man, a generally pretty good-looking guy coming out and being accepted. …
“You see the Instagram followers shoot up, you see all the of the organizations coming out to accept him and brands coming. It’s like, ‘Hm, that’s interesting because I’ve seen a very similar story to this, and the reception was not the same.’ But I hope it’s progress. I want to be optimistic.”
Russell’s story is the center of focus on “Finding Free,” a feature amid Pride Month highlighting the challenges he’s facing as an LGBTQ athlete after revealing his long-hidden “secret” to the world. It’s available to stream today on the subscription-based ESPN+ platform.
The Undefeated on ESPN+ spotlights many athletes on its Black History Always vertical, which revolved around “celebrating yesterday, today and forever through the lens of race, sports and The Culture.”
Russell’s pursuit to get back to an NFL roster spot continues to be a struggle, as he tries to return to the gridiron for the first time since 2017.
Although there’s a long list of athletes whom would like nothing more than to play in the NFL, there are only a handful truly qualified to do so. Russell, a defensive end who is an imposing physical presence at 6’5, 275 pounds, think he has the skillset to play at the highest level, he just needs the opportunity.
After stints with the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills failed to set him up with an established role in the league, it doesn’t seem anyone is rushing to give Russell a new opportunity. There are questions about whether that stems from his August 2019 announcement that he is bisexual.
When the 29-year-old first came out, Russell cited concerns he would be pushed away from the football community and lose his ability to financially support his family playing the game he loves. That fear has turned into reality, because Russell hasn’t been able to step on the field under the NFL platform in multiple years, with no end in sight.
The purpose of The Undefeated’s Pride Month coverage revolves around elevating LGBTQ voices, celebration of LGBTQ culture and the support of LGBTQ rights. Find out more at ESPN+.