It was four years ago that the the eyes of the football world were on Michael Sam at the NFL Combine. Sam, who came out publicly prior to the combine, was poised to become the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL.
It ultimately didn’t work out in the NFL for Sam, who was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the spring and cut at the end of training camp in 2014. Sam will always have the distinction of being the first out gay football player to participate at the combine and be drafted.
Since 2014, the only time a gay issue has come up at the combine was in 2016, when Eli Apple, a cornerback later drafted by the New York Giants, said he was asked by an unnamed assistant coach for the Atlanta Falcons if he liked men.
While Sam has been the first and last out player at the combine, this could change in the next couple of years when one of the two openly gay players currently on Power 5 college football teams will be eligible for the draft. Performing at the combine is a vital step for many potential draftees.
Scott Frantz is a junior left tackle for Kansas State and he came out prior to the start of the 2017 season. In his freshman and sophomore seasons Frantz was the Wildcats’ starting left tackle, a key position on the offensive line. In the 2016 Texas Bowl, Frantz shut down pass rushing specialist Myles Garrett, who last year was the top pick in the NFL Draft. One analyst, writing prior to last season, called Frantz good enough to be a future NFL player.
If Frantz desires to try and play in the NFL, he can do it after his upcoming junior season by declaring for the draft, though it’s more likely he would wait until after his senior season. If so, Frantz could be among potential draft choices invited to the combine (there are 336 invitees this year to the event, which is underway in Indianapolis).
Frantz’s combine experience would almost certainly be different and less frenzied than Sam’s. Sam did not come out publicly as gay until two weeks before the 2014 combine and it became a huge media story.
Frantz’s coming out last summer was more low-key and he will have had two or three years of being an out player before he could be invited to the combine. His being gay would not be as newsy for that reason, and I doubt he would undergo as much scrutiny about his personal life as did Sam in 2014.
This is all speculative, of course. Frantz could decide not to try out for the NFL or be sidetracked by an injury. But even if he doesn’t make the combine, there is another openly gay player waiting in the wings, My-King Johnson of Arizona.
Johnson was a redshirt freshman defensive lineman last year and is expected to suit up for the Wildcats in the fall. He’s a long way from being drafted, but he was a highly sought-after recruit and has the potential to play in the NFL.
I have long agreed with the idea that one of the easiest ways for a gay male athlete to reach the pros with minimal fuss would be for that person’s sexual orientation to be old news by the time he’s ready to turn pro. With Frantz and Johnson, we might see that theory put to the test in 2020 or 2021, unless some player not yet out beats them to it.