The masculinity in sports is often more toxic than it is healthy, especially when it comes to the NFL. Coming out in 2019 on ESPN, Ryan Russell is the first openly bisexual active football player in the NFL. His memoir is not just inspiring, but it also provides readers a reminder of the vitality of self-love.
Growing up, Russell was not much of a talker, only social with a few very close friends and family. He did not have too much self-esteem even in his childhood, not knowing his purpose or place in the world. He did know one thing for certain though. Russell wanted to be a professional football player.
Through hard work and sacrifice, his dream came true. But there were things that would keep him second-guessing himself: the expectations society put on him and his sexuality.
Russell describes the worlds he created for himself. The masculine football player with a girlfriend, and the man with a creative side, the bisexual. Before he came out, he did everything he could to keep these worlds from ever colliding, fearing that being open about his sexual orientation would destroy his career.
He also came into this with experiences of being the subject of racism. Being an openly bisexual Black man in the NFL seemed impossible.
The weight of his sexuality being kept a secret, on top of injury, breakup, and the loss of a best friend, lead to the lowest point in Russell’s mental health. But through everything, he knew that if he were to ever get better, it would have to be by breaking the stigma around addressing mental health issues. It is because of his strength in this that he began the healing process and to finally see his self-worth.
The Yards Between Us is not just a story for football fans. It is so much more than being just a sports memoir, offering valuable lessons that are universal to all, regardless of background or interest in sports.
Russell’s story is uplifting, and it is written with the intent that others can see their own worth and beauty. To accept yourself and be who you are in the face of hate is the most brave thing one can do.
The Yards Between Us by R.K. Russell ISBN 9781368081368