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R.K. Russell      

Former NFL Football Player, Social Justice Advocate, Published Poet, Essayist & Artist

R. K. Russell is a former NFL football player, a social justice advocate, published poet, essayist, and artist. In August of 2019, Russell made history by becoming the first out active NFL player to identify as bisexual. A decorated defensive end who has played for the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he has sacked Hall of Famers and gone up against the fiercest competitors at the height of their game.

Since coming out, he has written about his experience as a Black queer man in sports for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, Out Magazine, and Queer Majority, among others. Russell has been advocating for the LGBTQ+ community in professional sports, spearheading multiple NFL Pride initiatives such as the NFL Pride panel and the NFL’s National Coming Out Day PSA. He has been honored by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) by GAY TIMES (U.K.) as Sportsperson of the Year, and he was selected to the prestigious OUT 100 List in 2019.

His short documentary, Finding Free, was nominated for best short documentary at the 43rd Annual Sports Emmys and won awards at the 2022 Webby Awards, the 60th New York Film Festival, and the 43rd Annual Telly Awards. His new memoir, "The Yards Between Us," is available everywhere books are sold. He lives in Los Angeles.

Speech Topics

The Yards Between Us: Belonging Through Life, Love, and Football

“I worried that a young man who wrote poetry, drew pictures, and enjoyed slow songs about love would be seen as less masculine and, therefore, less of a football player. Being actually queer seemed like an instant, irreversible verdict on my belonging, on my right to exist in the male world of football.”

in this powerful talk, former the former NFL Defensive End shares his story and explores his love of football, men and women, walking the devastating tightrope of keeping his sexuality secret, the tension between his private and public lives, and the importance of crashing through barriers.

Through being cut, injured, and frustrating setbacks, Russell’s confidence lags as the secret of his sexuality weighs heavier and heavier. And when that frustration is combined with the devastating loss of his best friend and sole confidant, the darkness that follows also brings a deep understanding that perhaps it’s time to make a change. In Los Angeles, against the backdrop of the swaying palm trees and warm sands of Malibu, Russell falls in love and it’s the final push he needs to stand up for every part of himself—a professional athlete, a writer, a son, a friend, a lover, a bisexual Black man. R.K. Russell shows us the life-changing power of embracing who you are and fighting to make space so others can do the same.

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