R.K. Russell, who made headlines when the NFL free agent came out as bisexual in August 2019, is making headlines again with a plea to fellow athletes to stand up for transgender student-athletes.
In a moving and very personal essay for The Guardian, Russell writes not just about the spate of hate in states across the U.S., but about growing up Black and poor.
“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.”
The former NFL player expanded upon that concept of what sports is all about, in a word: love, not hate.
“There’s a prevailing notion that sports are a microcosm of our society, but I believe the greater truth is that sports are the conductor of our society, a sculpture of what we hope to be in the future. Any athlete will tell you that sports is never just business. When it comes to racism and hate plaguing our communities, police brutality against Black and brown people, or anti-trans bills being passed across our nation, sports isn’t an escape from those realities. To use sports as a way to distract from the hate being perpetuated in our society today is heinous, but also to use sports to perpetuate hate is the exact opposite of what sports is all about, that love and communion that it’s possible to find.”
Russell challenged today’s sports heroes to join him in defending trans athletes, saying there is no such thing as “an unfair advantage” or “an attack on women’s athletics.”
“When it comes to change, sport is one of the strongest conduits to help show society what it is capable of when we come together, but it has to be used for the better of all of us. Jackie Robinson understood that, Robbie Rogers knew that, Megan Rapinoe knows that, Chris Mosier knows that, and I hope you know it as well. We need athletes standing up against these bills but we also need athletes hijacking 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. This is an attack and we need to defend ourselves and our trans youth. We need to defend equality.”