For six of the eight openly gay or bi college football players, 2019 has marked the end of their collegiate careers, with five graduating and one deciding to stop playing football.
While their records of their teams were mixed, the emotions playing their last game were universal.
I saw this first hand two weeks ago when I watched Pomona-Pitzer lose 20-17 to Claremont-Mudd in what is known as the Sixth Street Rivalry. I was there to watch Jack Storrs, a starting linebacker for Pomona-Pitzer who had come out as publicly as bi a week earlier.
After the final whistle, Storrs hugged his parents, who had come to see him play from Virginia. Storrs wept as he embraced his dad, his emotions a combination of disappointment at the close loss, the end of his playing career and the love and support of his parents, who never missed a home game.
What was especially cool and inspiring was to see Storrs and his Sagehens teammates wearing helmets adorned with a rainbow decal to support LGBTQ athletes. The team first wore the decals for National Coming Out Day and then kept them on for the rest of the season. It was a simple yet powerful gesture.
Of the eight teams that had an openly gay or bi player, four played on teams with winning record and four on teams with losing records. Only one of the eight players still is playing, Scott Frantz of Big 12 team Kansas State, who team will be heading to a bowl game.
By being openly gay while playing our most popular sport, these athletes upended what long had been a stereotype of the impossibility of out players thriving in football. Their presence and acceptance on their teams shattered those stereotypes.
Here is how the eight gay or bi players and their teams fared this season:
- Scott Frantz, Kansas State offensive lineman (FBS), senior. (Read his coming out story)
The Wildcats are 8-4 and had one of the season’s biggest upsets when they beat then-unbeaten Oklahoma in October. Kansas State ended the regular season on Saturday by beating 23rd-ranked Iowa State.
Frantz, openly gay, is the team’s starting left tackle and will play his final collegiate game in the Wildcats’ bowl game, which will be determined this weekend. He is eligible to be in next year’s NFL draft and early reports project him as a possible draft pick.
- Jacob Van Ittersum, offensive lineman at Northwood University Michigan (Division II), senior. (Read his coming out story)
The Timberwolves finished 1-10 with Van Ittersum, who is bi, an offensive line starter. He reflected on the end of his career in an Instagram post:
“It’s my last day as a college football player and I just have to say thank you to my parents. They started me of in this sport 14 years ago. They drove me to practice when I couldn’t, they’ve been at every single game, they’ve spent so much to let me do what I love. I love you Mom and Dad and thank you for all that you’ve done for me. I’ve never taken it for granted and I appreciate what you’ve done more than you know. I wouldn’t be here without you two.”
- Wyatt Pertuset, Capital University (Ohio, Division III) wide receiver and punter, senior. (Read his coming out story)
Capital went 0-10, but Pertuset ended his career with a distinction in 2018 of the being the first openly gay player to score a college football touchdown.
He is most proud that coming out allowed him to help other LGBTQ athletes. “I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of people because of it, telling me their stories and asking for advice,” he said. “It makes me happy to be able to help other people in any way possible.”
- Cy Hicks, College of Idaho (NAIA) offensive lineman, sophomore. (Read his coming out story)
Hicks, openly gay, redshirted after season-ending surgery for a torn labrum. His Yotes’ team reached the NAIA playoffs.
- Avery Saffold, Amherst College in Massachusetts (Division III) defensive back, senior. (Read his coming out story)
Saffold, openly gay, had 21 tackles and three interceptions for the 4-5 Mammoths. For his performance, he was named first-team all-conference for the New England Small College Athletic Conference.
Congratulations to Avery Saffold, who was named a @NESCAC 1st Team All-Conference CB, his third straight 1st-Team All-Conference award‼️— Amherst College Football (@AmherstCollFB) December 3, 2019
21 Tackles#CrankIt #fAmily pic.twitter.com/hSLwMkKX2q
“Everything good comes to an end,” Saffold wrote on Instagram after his team’s final game. “I’m thankful for the relationships and lessons learned along the way. Special thanks to all my Amherst family for a great 4 years.”
- Christian Zeitvogel, Kalamazoo College (Michigan Division III) offensive lineman, sophomore. (Read his coming out story)
Zeitvogel, who is gay, decided to end his football career at season’s end, citing a concussion he suffered in August and the desire to pursue his academic interests.
“I shouldn’t be devoting such time and energy to something that I am not fully invested in, and my team certainly does not deserve to have an anchor that only has one foot in the program,” he wrote me in an email.
In his coming out story, he talked about the reaction and how it was different than what he expected.
“Those whom I feared rejection from exceeded my expectations in their support for me; it was my own doubt and intolerance that made life intolerable.”
- My-King Johnson, enrolled at New Mexico Military Institute, a junior college, after transferring from the University of Arizona. (Read his coming out story)
Johnson, openly gay, played in six games with seven tackles for New Mexico Military in his first game action in two years after sitting out his freshman season at Arizona. The team finished 6-5, which included a first-round win in their division playoffs.
- Jack Storrs, Pomona-Pitzer linebacker, senior. (Read his coming out story)
Storrs led the Sagehens with 75 total tackles as Pomona-Pitzer finished 5-4. He reflected on the power of his team wearing the rainbow decals:
“The support and love I had gotten from all my Pomona-Pitzer team until that point had been incredible, yet this is something I’ll never forget.”
These eight were the only players who were publicly out about being gay or bi and my hope for 2020 is that they are joined by others.