McMullen | Frantz and O’Callaghan highlight changing football culture

Kansas State quarterback Alex Delton (5) and offensive lineman Scott Frantz (74) celebrate a touchdown by fullback Winston Dimel, middle, during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Missouri State in Manhattan, Kan., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Orlin Wagner/AP photo

It was eventually going to happen and hopefully Kansas State offensive lineman Scott Frantz puts a tired narrative to bed.

To date, there has never been an openly gay player in the NFL, and that has been a monster story reaching far outside the league since former co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam came out before the 2014 NFL Draft.

Those who didn’t understand college success doesn’t always translate to the NFL made the illogical leap that the Missouri defensive end was being singled out and punished by a bigoted league intent on keeping gays out of its locker rooms.

In reality, Sam was a below-average prospect, too small to handle the edge in a 4-3 scheme and lacking the lateral quickness to make the transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker. On top of that, he had other goals beyond the NFL and never really accepted the grind players have to go through to excel at the professional level.

In another generation, the assumptions about Sam from outside the game might have even been true, but in a modern locker room — more often than not — the reaction toward a gay player would be met with a shrug of the shoulders, something Frantz actually confirmed himself when speaking with ESPN this week.

“I came out to my teammates, and I’ve never felt so loved and so accepted ever in my life than when I did that,” he said. “And ever since then it’s been great. I’ve grown so much closer to my teammates since. So it’s been an amazing experience.”

The fact that Frantz has not been ostracized surprises many people and that may be the bigger issue here because there was also a similar reaction in the aftermath of former NFL offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan admitting he was gay earlier this summer.

O’Callaghan’s story is a heart-wrenching tale in which he planned on playing football as long as he could before killing himself because he didn’t believe he would ever be accepted due to his lifestyle.

The former New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs player believed that if he told the truth, his entire life would derail. From there he descended into a swirl of depression and prescription drug abuse and was well on his way to implementing “the plan.”

Scott Pioli, the ex-personnel chief in both New England and Kansas City, was always instrumental in O’Callaghan’s career, and the player thought he owed the guy who was always in his corner the truth back to 2011. Securing a meeting, ostensibly to talk about a problem he was having, O’Callaghan told Pioli: “I’ve got something else I’ve got to tell you,” before blurting out, “I’m gay.”

“So what’s the problem you wanted to talk to me about?” Pioli responded.

The powerful NFL executive didn’t care.

This is not an attempt to claim there aren’t homophobic people in NFL locker rooms. They are, after all, nothing more than a microcosm of society as a whole, but the vast majority of players simply do not care about one’s sexual preference.

And when it comes to NFL decision makers, if you’re gay, you’re graded on the same scale as anyone else: Can you help the football team.

“People like me are supposed to react a certain way, I guess,” Pioli told Outsports. “I wasn’t minimizing what he was telling me, but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. He built this up and built this up to the point where he said he was nearly suicidal. What Ryan didn’t know is how many gay people I’ve had in my life.”

Frantz, a left tackle, still has a way to go before the NFL is a reality, but he’s regarded as a legitimate prospect after a redshirt freshman season in which he held up very well when squaring off against Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft.

There have been many gay players in the NFL, but none that were open about it while playing. That will change.

Old stereotypes die hard, but people like Pioli and Frantz’s teammates at Kansas State are making sure one surrounding the game of football is about to be extinct.

-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen.

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