With the news that Scott Frantz of Kansas State has come out publicly as gay, college football will have five openly gay players this season, including two from FBS/Power 5 conferences, a record.
When the season starts seven weeks from now on Labor Day weekend, Frantz will join freshman My-King Johnson of the University of Arizona as players who belong to schools in college football’s highest level. Until this season, there has never been an openly gay active FBS (Division I-A in years past) player, so to have two is noteworthy.
The two will be joined by three players who compete in lower divisions of the sport:
- Kyle Kurdziolek, a University of St. Francis (Ill., NAIA) linebacker, who will be a junior this fall.
- Darrion McAlister, a center for Marian (Ind., NAIA) University, who will be a senior.
- Wyatt Pertuset, a Capital University (Ohio, Division III), wide receiver who will be a sophomore.
All five players have come out publicly since February, itself very notable. Stories about openly gay football players — high school, college or pros — used to be very rare and to have five come out in the span of six months (all of them accepted on their teams) shows a momentum not seen before.
(There have been other college football players who were open on their teams, but did not go public until after their college careers were over. I also know there have been players openly gay on their teams who decided to never go public.)
In addition, former NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan came out in late June, becoming one of only 11 NFL players in history who have publicly identified as gay. For good measure, we also told the story of a former high school player in rural Texas who played both lines and then donned makeup to perform with the drill team at halftime. Times do seem to be changing.
When Cyd and I talked about the latest college football player to come out, he asked, “Is this the moment?” The only honest answer is we don’t know. We’ve seen similar trends before that were short-lived.
In 2013 and 2014 we had Jason Collins come out in the NBA and Michael Sam as an NFL draft choice (along with women’s basketball star Brittney Griner), leading one reporter for a major mainstream publication to tell me that the gays-in-sports story was now played out. How wrong he was — no major male pro team sport athlete has come out since and the subject continues to fascinate.
The great news about Johnson and Frantz is that they play at the highest level and all their games will be televised, heightening their exposure and having more people hear in some fashion in the media that they are openly gay. And if either is good enough, they will make the next step to the NFL, where their sexual orientation should be old news by the time they are drafted; that’s a good thing.
Johnson is aware of what being publicly out means, saying “I do feel like when I say that, it can put a target on my back.” At the same time, he insists “I’m just here to play football.”
All five players are role models for other athletes deep in the closet or maybe considering coming out publicly themselves, showing that playing college football as a young gay man is possible. None of them have to be advocates for LGBT issues if they choose not to be. Just by being themselves and playing the game they love, they will be making a big difference.