Jock Talk: Noteworthy distractions
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When Michael Sam came out shortly before the NFL's player draft a few years back, our hope that he would soon be the first active gay pro football player to play in the NFL regular season were agonizingly smothered. He was drafted, excelled in some exhibition games, but ultimately was released and soon wandered off to sign fleetingly with Canadian football before dropping off the public radar.
We heard any number of reasons Sam was passed over in the NFL. Too small to play this position, too big to play that position. A tweener without the speed to compensate, despite being an All-Conference defensive beast in college. Excuse after excuse.
Most damning (and stupidly baseless) of all? Having a gay player would be too much of a "distraction" for a team, a coach, owners, or a franchise to handle.
Prepare for a bucket load of "distraction" in college football this season.
Sophomore offensive tackle Scott Frantz, 6-foot-5, 293 pounds, and a standout in this year's Texas Bowl, will start again for Kansas State after starting every game last season for the Wildcats. During the offseason, he told his teammates he was gay.
"The very first time I said those words was in front of, you know â€" 110, 120 football guys," Frantz told ESPN. "You can imagine how scared I was, how nervous I was. This could go either really bad or could go really good. Thankfully my teammates embraced me with open arms, and it was great. I've never felt so loved and so accepted ever in my life than when I did that. Ever since then, it's been great. I've grown so much closer to my teammates since. It's been an amazing experience."
Joining Frantz in Division I, college football's highest, will be freshman My-King Johnson, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound defensive lineman for Arizona. He's been out to family and teammates since the age of 12.
"I'm a very honest person," Johnson told the Arizona Daily Star. "I just don't see how I could be living an honest, truthful life and have that in the background. I do feel like when I say that (I'm gay), it can put a target on my back â€" but, whatever."
Johnson told the Star he had come out to his mother, Nadette Lewis, on a trip to the grocery store.
"I love you for who you are as a person," Lewis said she told him. "Sexuality? It doesn't matter. That's how I teach my children. Love who you are no matter what you are, or what you look like. You have to love yourself. If you love yourself first, then everybody else will respect that and have no choice but to love you."
Other gay college football players expected to be active this year at lower division schools include sophomore wide receiver Wyatt Pertusett at Capital University in Ohio; junior linebacker Kyle Kurdziolek at University of St. Francis in Illinois; and senior center Darrion McAlister at Marian University in Indiana.
So, more than four decades after former NFL player Dave Kopay came out of the closet, are we finally going to see widespread disclosure and supportive acceptance throughout the sport?
"A gay man playing college football, something that you don't hear or see ever, it's one of those taboo things within the football world," Kurdziolek's linebacker coach Josh Mander told Outsports. "You wouldn't expect a gay player to be here, but ... maybe we start something that shows kids that it's fine. You're OK to be out and be a member of a football team."
And from the look of things, not all that distracting.