(Photo Credits: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
NFL veteran free agent and writer Ryan “RK” Russell has written a powerful opinion piece on The Guardian in support of transgender athletes.
For those who are not aware, it’s not just anti-transgender sports bills, there are currently over 200 anti-trans bills introduced by Republican lawmakers across the U.S.A. These bills, according to The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),curtail transgender rights in various ways such as the following:
- healthcare access for transgender youth,
- bathroom access,
- barring transgender students from competing in sports in accordance with their gender identity,
- access to ID or identification documents that provide legal recognition of their name and gender identity.
Having said all that, the 29-year-old openly bisexual football player’s op-ed revealed how his life was growing up as a Black athlete raised by a single-parent family. His mother, Russell said, worked three jobs in order to provide for him. Sports, however, afforded him opportunities of a lifetime such as the scholarship he garnered from Purdue University. Trans kids, Russell noted, deserve the same opportunity that made his NFL career possible.
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.
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.
In addition, Russell explained how 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.” He added, “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?”
Further, Russell said, “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.”
Lastly, Russell enjoined athletes to stand up against these over 200 anti-trans bills and to hijack the narrative that these actions are to protect anyone. “Don’t let anyone use the games that we love for hate. Don’t let them distract from what’s really going on,” Russell said. “This is an attack and we need to defend ourselves and our trans youth. We need to defend equality.”
Russell, who came out as bisexual in 2019, played for the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for three NFL seasons.