Free State graduate could become first openly gay athlete to play for an NFL team

photo by: Charlie Riedel

Kansas State offensive lineman Scott Frantz warms up before an NCAA college football game against TCU Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Manhattan, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Scott Frantz has been quietly preparing for what lies ahead since Kansas State’s football season ended at a bowl game on Dec. 31. It’s a future that could change NFL history.

Frantz, an offensive lineman from Lawrence, is gay. His teammates and the Wildcat faithful have known that for three years. But not since Mizzou’s Michael Sam has a college football player been out publicly before seeking a pro career.

“If you show up and you’re a good guy and you work hard and you play well, that’s all that matters,” Frantz told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in January during a gathering of NFL prospects. “No one gives a crap about the other stuff.”

Since that interview, Frantz has shut down other requests. It doesn’t mean, however, that he won’t be asked about his sexuality by NFL teams in the coming weeks leading up to the late April draft.

K-State offensive line coach Conor Riley said Frantz is braced for the inquiries.

“It is going to come up. Scott and I have discussed that,” Riley said. “But (neither) Scott nor any football team should allow that to be any type of distraction for him continuing to go out, compete and produce on the football field.”

Frantz, 6-foot-5 and about 300 pounds, began his K-State career in 2016. He became the first freshman to start every game at left tackle since the Bill Snyder coaching era began in 1989. By his senior year, 2019, he was voted second-team All Big 12 tackle and ended his college career 51 straight starts at left tackle — the most of any player among five major football conferences (Big 12, SEC, Pac 12, ACC and Big Ten).

Frantz’s senior-season play, not his personal story, drew the attention of his now-agent, Brett Tessler, who is based in Florida.

Tessler believes an NFL team would benefit from taking a chance on Frantz.

“I think it would be a great honor for them,” he said. “I think it would be great publicity for them to have somebody who ended up becoming the first ever in the history of the NFL.”

Sam came close. He was drafted by the then-St. Louis Rams in 2014. His presence at training camp led to a media circus, but former Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan said that wasn’t the reason Sam didn’t play a snap in the NFL.

“His play on the field didn’t speak louder than the media,” O’Callaghan said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

O’Callaghan is gay, but didn’t come out publicly until his playing days were over. After retiring, he wrote a book called “My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me and Ended Up Saving My Life.”

O’Callaghan said Frantz is entering a more accepting environment in the NFL. Some former players have come out recently, too.

“I’ve had several meetings with the NFL specifically and I’ve heard from a lot of closeted athletes,” he said. “I’ve also seen quite a few other athletes that have felt open enough to actually come out and live their life while they’re still playing.”

While he didn’t go public during his career, O’Callaghan did tell someone in the Chiefs organization: then-general manager Scott Pioli. In Pioli’s opinion, teams should ask Frantz about his sexuality, but not “about his lifestyle and what he’s doing, where he’s going.”

“Ask him, ‘If we’re going to make this work, how do we make this work?'” Pioli said. “Clearly it’s worked well at K-State.”

Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3. Find him on Twitter at @GregEchlin.

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