R.K. Russell is living his truth. The NFL defensive end came out as bisexual in 2019, which made him the league’s first-out athlete of that orientation. He has not played for an NFL team since 2017, according to Pro Football Reference.
His memoir, The Yards Between Us: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Football, is available now. His short documentary, Finding Free, won a Webby and was nominated for a Sports Emmy. Russell’s story will also go to the screen in a deal with Sony Pictures Television and Gabrielle Union to develop a half-hour series.Russell recently spoke with rolling out about his life, career and projects.
What was the reaction from the public when you first came out?I definitely think before, especially with people like Michael Sam, Ryan O’Callaghan, who came out after he retired, all those guys paved the way for the reaction I got, especially when you look at all of the positive things. I was able to tell my story on a national platform. I was embraced by the NFL afterward and by people at large. I feel like people were a little more comfortable having the conversation and voicing their support for me. Of course, there was still hate, homophobia, and all of those things are something we continue to deal with and I hope we view that as what we’re dealing with as a society as a whole.
In high school locker rooms, some kids might make “gay” jokes, and they might even act like they’re a part of that community. What was seeing that culture like?
I think using anything as a joke or playing into tropes or ideas that we have of what it means to be LGBTQ+, there’s a fine line between the reclamation of things, embracing things and having a laugh with buddies and then, in turn, making fun of someone, or playing up a stereotype, or feeding into these ideals that for so long have been barriers and obstacles in people’s lives, and made them feel alienated.
I think sports, especially in the locker room, can take a closer look at that at every level. I mean high school, too. There’s a level of immaturity because we’re all immature. We’re all young, but I think, especially moving into college, into professional sports, we kind of have to remember, to respect the professional level. This is a workplace.
What’s going on with the production with Gabrielle Union?
We are in the middle of the WGA Writer’s Strike, so writers are trying to get a fair deal and that is something we are fully on board with … it was actually Gabrielle Union’s idea to turn my memoir into a 30-minute comedy series.
I don’t think my book screams comedy when you first get a hold of it, but listening to Gabrielle Union and knowing who she is and having faith in her as a creative, as a talent and as an ally to the LGBTQ community … you’re inclined to sit back and be like “OK. Tell me more.”
Source: Rolling Out