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HE WROTE ESSAY FOR ESPN

NFL Star Ryan Russell comes out

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Ryan Russell, an NFL veteran who has previously played for the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, came out as bisexual in a powerful essay for ESPN.

Russell opens up about his childhood as a young black boy, where he would split himself into columns, one side straight and the other, gay. That followed him into adulthood and his professional life. 

"Though I confided in close friends and family and gave myself permission to date both men and women discreetly, I deprived myself the basic privilege of living an open life," says Russell. "That meant I had to be strategic and cautious about meeting guys or getting involved with them during the regular season. It also meant that even though I was building important friendships on my team, I couldn't be authentic or honest about who I am or what was going on in my life."

After his first season, Russell says a "well-known blogger" saw him in the background of an Instagram story of the man Russell was dating, messaged him, and threatened to shake up everything.

"The blogger could have revealed I was in a gay relationship. My professional world and personal world were colliding with me caught in the cataclysm. I panicked, then wrote back, reminding him that there were implications about his actions he didn't fully understand. If the blogger outed me, I was sure that would kill my career, one that was supporting not just me, but my mother and grandfather. He'd eradicate a childhood dream that was the product of years of work and sacrifice."

The blogger didn't out him, but told Russell to be more careful. He continued to hide throughout his career and injury.

Russell says that until recently, he "didn't love myself enough to live openly and honestly. I was ashamed of who I am. I prayed countless nights for God to take away this part of me. I was ashamed to love women because I knew I could also love men. I stayed up so many nights in fear of being found out, in fear that the professional sports world would reject me for the way I was born. I lied to myself every chance I could. I looked in the mirror and lied, got into relationships and lied, woke up every morning and went to sleep every night lying about the fullness of my soul."

But now he's ready. Ready to return to the NFL as an openly bisexual man, no longer letting his sexuality hold him back in his private life or on the field. "Today, I have two goals: returning to the NFL, and living my life openly," he writes. "This is the last time I will ever interview for a job as anything other than my full self. Out of love, admiration and respect, I want the next team to sign me valuing me for what I do and knowing who I truly am.

"Those two objectives shouldn't be in conflict. But judging from the fact that there isn't a single openly LGBTQ player in the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball or the NHL, brings me pause. I want to change that -- for me, for other athletes who share these common goals, and for the generations of LGBTQ athletes who will come next."

Ryan O’Callaghan, an openly gay former NFL offensive lineman, said in a recent interview that every team in the National Football League has at least one gay or bisexual player that he hears from on a regular basis. Who knows how many of these men are hiding out of fear of a negative impact on their career. 

Well, Russell is hiding no more. 

"Withholding information is a form of deceit. And I want the next part of my career -- and life -- steeped in trust and honesty. During the season you spend more time with your team than with your own family; truth and honesty are the cornerstones of a winning culture. My truth is that I'm a talented football player, a damn good writer, a loving son, an overbearing brother, a caring friend, a loyal lover, and a bisexual man."