NFL star RK Russell looking pensive (PIC: Ryan K. Russell from Instagram @rkrelentless )
American football player Ryan Kamey Russell has had a glittering career playing for the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers between 2015 and 2018 before moving to LA to begin a career as a writer after the death of a fellow player brought about a period of depression and reflection.
He came out as bisexual in an essay to ESPN in order to live honestly but also to live without fear of being outed. He introduced his fans to his boyfriend, the dancer Corey O’Brien and started their own You Tube channel. This week, he decided to pen a letter for The Guardian basically taking down what is a scary amount of anti-trans laws that are springing up all over the USA with a view to trans children in team sport.
Introducing boyfriend Corey O'Brien to his fans (PIC: Ryan K. Russell from Instagram @rkrelentless )
RK says of making it big in sport: ‘Ninety-nine out of a hundred times the reason athletes of similar ability don’t go the same distance or don’t make the leap from amateur to professional is circumstance and opportunity, two things that in our day and age – unlike mastery of a sport – you are born into.’
As the shock of these anti trans laws sinks in , he writes ‘After the past few weeks, most trans children including those who have immense potential to be great athletes or, at the very least, find love and joy in sports, can’t even pick up a ball without legislation telling them they don’t belong. Being born Black, queer, trans or of any marginalized community puts you behind the starting line of any race, even when you might need that love and community more than we imagine.
Pitching in - Russell playing football (PIC: Ryan K. Russell from Instagram @rkrelentless )
He also talks at length about his past and his own past affected his choices ‘As a Black man I had options, but they were limited. I was from a single-parent family in a lower income bracket and my windows of opportunity narrowed as time went on. Still I had one way out, one thing that would break every window of possibility open and propel me through the ceiling of others’ expectations straight into the stratosphere. I was given an opportunity in football. I found love there’
Of course this all has to relate to the plight of trans kids today, about which he says: ‘All kids need this. I needed it as a Black teenager in the south from a low-income, single-parent home. My NFL peers all needed someone to give them a shot or they never would have made it. And trans kids need this, too. They need to be treated like kids, like they are worthy of the opportunity to play, to find love and community on the field. Everyone is worthy of this’
Gratuitous hot selfie alert! (PIC: Ryan K. Russell from Instagram @rkrelentless )
Russell continued, ‘I first read about the anti-trans legislation being signed into law and pushed to our youth through an article about women’s sports. About protecting cis-gendered girls from the participation of trans girls in what was written as, “an unfair advantage”, or “an attack on women’s athletics”, both of which by science and reason are untrue. Sports teaches us about hard work, value, determination. It introduces us to the notion of a team that feels like family, but it also allows everyone to feel connected by a common goal.’
Clearly taking the current climate to heart, Russell says, ‘Isn’t it important for trans children more than most to feel the belonging of a team, especially when society is questioning they belong at all? The locker room is a place that, regardless of what going on in your day to day life, you should feel a part of something great, powerful, and welcoming. LGBTQ+ people and trans people need that more than anyone.’
Smouldering like the best of 'em (PIC: Ryan K. Russell from Instagram @rkrelentless )
‘To exclude trans athletes is to use sport in direct opposition of where its true power lies. Sport is about change, about rooting for the underdog and building a dynasty from nothing but hard work, perseverance and love; love for your team, for your sport and for yourself. The exclusion of Black athletes back in the 40s and 50s wasn’t about the integrity of the sport but the division of our society. The rumor of a gay, bisexual or queer player in professional men’s sports isn’t about a media distraction but about the repositioning of toxic masculinity.’
In conclusion, Russell is pulling no punches: ‘The reason women athletes aren’t paid as much isn’t because their platform or performance is less but that media, business organizations, and ultimately our misogynistic society are afraid of just how big women’s influence and power is. The more than 200 anti-trans bills currently under consideration in state legislatures across the US are not about trans youth in sports, but about attacking, harming and eradicating the most vulnerable of us all.'
You can't beat a Hollywood Hill hike! (PIC: Ryan K. Russell from Instagram @rkrelentless )