R.K. Russell reinvents the stereotype of NFL players

Christina Judy, Contributing writer

On Sept. 26, MSG hosted its first speaker series of the year. MSG usually brings in two speakers throughout the year, but this year, they are bringing three guests to talk about their life experiences. The first one was R.K. Russell. Russell is the first openly LGBTQ person to play in the NFL. Russell was born in Buffalo, New York, but grew up in Texas. He started playing football in his teens, which is pretty late for someone who made it to the NFL. He played in college at Purdue University and later played profession-ally for the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Buffalo Bills. Russell came to talk about his experiences in life and the NFL as someone who was not sure who they truly were. He talked about how people have labels placed on themselves from a young age based on random things that should have no impact on their image such as race, socioeconomic class, and the type of household they came from. He then moved on to talk about how college was the first time he could truly re-start with a clean slate be-cause no one knew him as this small-town boy, he could define himself for the first time. Russell talked about how he was so focused on accomplishing what he always thought would make him happy in life: going to college, getting an education, and then making it to the NFL. Along his journey, he was unable to truly find himself because he did not make the time for it. It took a traumatic experience for him to realize that he needed to put him-self first and discover who he really was. He encouraged the audience to take the time to engage with their whole identity. Russell said, “There is a power in accepting your identity and truth that is contagious.” MSG’s events coordinator, Cooper Hicks, is the master-mind behind getting these wonderful speakers to come to Mercyhurst. Hicks wanted to bring more diverse speakers to campus this year. He started with Russell in September. In November the speaker will be Feminista Jones and in the spring will be Terrence Floyd. These speakers hope to reach a wider audience of people due to their diverse backgrounds. Hicks said, “I was pleased with how the event turned out and wish more people could have attended to hear R.K.’s talk. He did a great job highlighting the struggles of life that college-age people face.” “R.K. has a great personality and it was very easy to get along with him. He really is an inspiration to so many people,” said Hicks. To conclude his speech, Russell talked about how he wishes there could be less of a stigma from a young age about people in sports. He mentioned that criticism starts at a young age with sayings like “you run like a girl” or “you throw like a sissy.” He mentioned that some of the worst discrimination he faced was in high school and college and not in the NFL. He said that is why there is not a lot of diversity among the current professional players because they were not given the opportunities from a young age. Russell hopes that one day people will be able to play sports and not be discriminated against for simply being who they are. “You deserve to love you. You deserve to be here. Ex-tend that to everyone you meet. We don’t need to do anything to deserve happiness,” said Russell. He ended the night with advice to students on being the ones to make a difference and work toward a more inclusive environment, “The whole world isn’t going to hear this conversation. But we can share it with the whole world.” Russell was a great start to the 2022-2023 MSG Speaker Series.