After three years of living publicly as his true self, Ryan “R.K.” Russell is ready to share more of his deeply personal story.
Russell, who played for the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, came out as bisexual in 2019. Though he was an NFL free agent at the time, his announcement nonetheless broke barriers given the lack of openly LGBTQ players in the “Big Four” professional sports leagues, which also include the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball.
The 30-year-old athlete reflects on his journey toward reclaiming the narrative around his sexuality in his forthcoming autobiography, “The Yards Between Us: A Memoir of Life, Love and Football.” HuffPost caught a sneak peek at the cover for the memoir, due out May 16, 2023, via ESPN’s Andscape Books.
“Coming out is just one moment,” Russell told HuffPost. “Though it’s a big one, there was so much I had to go through to get there and so much more life to live afterward. I wanted to write a memoir specifically because writing has saved me time and time again through depression, grief, injury and heartache. … It’s a humbling experience to reflect on where you came from.”
He added: “In my three years since coming out, I haven’t seen the progress I was hoping for, and this felt like an opportunity for me to step up and make a change. The writing was a chance to work out unresolved trauma, celebrate my achievements, and fall in love with myself all over again, and I hope others can do the same as they read along.”
In addition to Russell’s professional experiences, “The Yards Between Us” documents his childhood in Carrollton, Texas, as well as his college years as a defensive lineman for Purdue University in Indiana. He also shares the grief he experienced after the loss of his best friend and Purdue teammate, Joseph Gilliam, who died of cancer in 2018.
And though Russell was applauded by fans and LGBTQ rights advocates after coming out, he has not played a game for an NFL team since opening up about his sexuality ― and he doesn’t shy away from expressing that frustration in his book.
“Frankly, as a bisexual Black man in America, playing football was the easy part,” he said. “It’s getting up and enduring all the hate, misinformation, corruption and politics to get to the field that’s so intense.”
Still, “The Yards Between Us” is ultimately a hopeful narrative. These days, Russell is happily in a relationship with dancer Corey O’Brien, whose impressive TikTok re-creations of iconic music videos have caught the eye of Justin Timberlake and the Spice Girls, among other stars.
He’s also optimistic about Carl Nassib, who became the first active NFL player to come out as gay in 2021. This week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Nassib to a one-year deal.
Looking ahead, Russell hopes “The Yards Between Us” will be the first of many books and other creative endeavors that will explore “love, Blackness, queerness, masculinity and human connection.”
“Inclusion is not only the message of my book but my life purpose,” Russell said. “And it’s at the heart of everything I do.”