When Kansas State offensive tackle and NFL hopeful Scott Frantz came out to the nation as gay, he shared that his teammates (to whom he'd come out earlier) had warmly received the news, a sign the most alpha of locker rooms may finally be ready for equality. That's a quick shift considering retired NFL player Ryan O'Callaghan (who came out shortly before Frantz) shared that as recently as 2011 he'd contemplated taking his own life as a better option than letting his sexuality be disclosed while he still played ball.
So, with more and more football stars coming out and authentically living in their truths, has the future finally charged onto the turf?
Here's a list of players in college and pro ball who have proved you can be gay or bi and still run the gauntlet.
Running back Dave Kopay, who signed with the San Francisco 49ers in 1964, would play for five teams before hanging up his jersey in 1972. He would become the first major professional athlete to come out in any sport, telling his story to the Washington Star in 1975 -- three years after his retirement. He graced the cover of The Advocatea few months later. Kopay released a best-selling autobiography a couple years after that, but find himself an outcast in the football world for decades, denied a chance to coach because of his sexuality even in the late 1990s. He eventually revealed he'd had a short relationship with a closeted Jerry Smith.
Roy "Sugar Bear" Simmons, an offensive lineman for the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, became the second NFL player ever to publicly reveal he was gay. Six years after playing his last game, a Super Bowl, he came out on Donahue in 1992. He would publish a memoir, Out of Bounds: Coming Out of Sexual Abuse, Addiction and My Life of Lies in the NFL in 2006. Simmons, who was HIV-positive, died of complications from pneumonia in 2014.
In 1968, Washington Redskins running back Ray McDonald was arrested for having sex with a man in public, just a year after the Redskins had drafted him in the first round. So Coach Vince Lombardi knew McDonald was gay when he took over leadership of the team in 1969, but made clear there would be no discrimination in his locker room, those close to the legend say. However, Lombardi would eventually fire McDonald for showing up late to a meeting, and the back would never play pro ball again. In 1986, after being hospitalized when a lover stabbed him, McDonald learned he had contracted HIV, and he would die of AIDS-related causes in 1993.
Cornerback Wade Davis, who played preseason with the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins and spent two seasons with NFL Europe teams Berlin Thunder and Barcelona Dragons, came out as gay in 2012, nearly a decade after his retirement. Davis said he concealed his sexuality from teammates while he played. He would later join the staff of the Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York, working with LGBT youth.
Ryan O'Callaghan, an offensive tackle with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, came out to OutSports in June of 2017, revealing that he had long contemplated suicide should he lose the chance to hide his sexuality with the mask of a macho sport. After a career-ending injury in 2011, he battled painkiller abuse and even wrote a suicide note, but after counseling decided to come out first to his family and then to the general public.
Kwame Harris played five seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and one with Oakland Raiders before retiring from the sport after the 2008 season. The offensive tackle would be outed publicly in 2013 after a domestic dispute with a boyfriend landed him in jail. He would later confirm his sexuality on CNN and sit down with ESPN to discuss the challenges of growing up gay in Jamaica and playing football while closeted.
A Purdue alum who gained more yards than any other non-Heisman Trophy winner in Big Ten history, Dorien Bryant failed to get drafted in 2008. He signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers later but got cut. He later declined to sign with the Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys before coming out as gay at 24, he told Philadelphia Magazine in 2013.He revealed to the magazine that he'd dated a male cheerleader at Purdue who had threatened to out him then.
A center for Wisconsin when the team finished number 5 in the country, Brad Thorson would go undrafted in 2011, then sign as a free agent with the Arizona Cardinals, only to end up on an injured reserve list before leaving the league without playing a regular season game. He would later move to San Francisco and join the Fog, a gay rugby team, and pen a coming-out blog post in 2015.
A University of Pittsburgh offensive lineman from 1977 through 1979, Ed Gallagher repressed his sexuality until 1985, when he had his first sexual encounter with a man, then attempted to kill himself 12 days later. Left paralyzed, he would go on to publish a book and to found Alive to Thrive, becoming a spokesman for the disabled and advocate for human rights. He died in 2005.
An offensive lineman for Princeton, Mason Darrow came out in 2015. Last fall, he helped Princeton capture an Ivy League title, the second during his college career. He's now pursuing a front-office job in professional sports.
Kansas State offensive tackle Scott Frantz came out during a July 2017 interview on ESPN. He revealed he came out to teammates the previous year during a team-building exercise before he even told his family, and had kept his sexuality secret during recruiting because he feared it might be an issue (though coaches say it would have made no difference). Frantz started all 13 games last year as a freshman and already enjoys attention from NFL scouts. He and My-King Johnson are expected to be the only out players taking the field for Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (previously Division I-A) teams this year -- at least so far.
Marian University center Darrion McAlister came out to The Indianapolis Star in February of 2017. He said he wanted to enter his final season of college ball living openly and honestly, and emailed the newspaper shortly after Kurdziolek, a friend and opponent on the field, came out publicly.
Wyatt Pertuset, a special teams player and receiver for Capital University, will be a sophomore this season. He came out to OutSports in May of 2017, where he announced hopes to be among the first out players to score a touchdown and to receive an All-Conference honor.
During his senior year, Augsburg College linebacker Scott Cooper gave a speech at the school's chapel on National Coming Out Day in 2013, and at his last game would be introduced on the field alongside his partner, he wrote in OutSports.
Defensive back Theodore Lisoski was out when he tried out doe and made the Portland Pit Bulls (formerly the Portland Monarchs), a semi-pro team, in 2014. Lisoski now plays with the Cowlitz Cobras.
"Today, I have two goals: returning to the NFL, and living my life openly," he wrote at the time. "I want to live my dream of playing the game I've worked my whole life to play, and being open about the person I've always been."
Since then, he has urged the NFL to become more diverse and inclusive of out, LGBTQ+ players. "I am proud to be an out bisexual Black man, and it's time the NFL was proud to have me and others like me as an active part of their family," he wrote in an essay he penned for Out last year after participating in the NFL's Coming Out Day PSA. "I appeared in this month's PSA alongside my brothers to make sure that our message is clear. Football is for everyone and since I came out in August of 2019, I have dedicated myself to ensuring that is the case."
The Bachelor star and former football player (who was signed by the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent and was on the practice squad of the Oakland Raiders and the Philadelphia Eagles) came out as gay in April of 2021, saying he had finally come to terms with his sexuality and the "next step in all of this was sort of letting people know."
He wanted everyone to know he was "still the same Colton everybody met on TV" and is "proud to be gay."
"What's up people," Nassib said in his Instagram video. "I'm at my house in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I'm gay. I've been meaning to do this for a while now but finally feel comfortable getting it off my chest. I really have the best life, the best family, friends and job a guy can ask for."
"I'm a pretty private person so I hope you guys know that I'm not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that one day, videos like this and the whole coming out process are not necessary, but until then I will do my best and my part to cultivate a culture that's accepting and compassionate and I'm going to start by donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project. They're an incredible organization, they're the number one suicide-prevention service for LGBTQ youth in America and they're truly doing incredible things. I'm very excited to be a part of it and help in any way that I can and I'm really pumped to see what the future holds."
"I have come to understand that life is precious and I could be gone at any moment, therefore, I will no longer be living a lie," Perkins wrote in his Insta post. "No one should have to live a life crippled by what society thinks."
"Especially at an HBCU, young Black gay men need an outlet. They need a support system. There hasn't been an out gay football athlete at an HBCU. I want to end the stigma of what people think. I want people to know they can be themselves."
Before joining the Jaguars organization, Maxen worked for the Baylor Bears and the Vanderbilt Commodores. He also played football himself during his college years when he was a linebacker for Western Connecticut State University.
"I don’t want to feel like I have to think about it anymore," Maxen, who also revealed he had been in a relationship with another man for two years, told Outsports. "I don’t want to feel like I have to lie about who I am seeing, or why I am living with someone else. I want to be vocal in support of people living how they want to live, but I also want to just live and not feel fear about how people will react."
“Some colleges really didn’t want a gay football player, and I understand that,” McDowell told The Athletic in a profile published in September of 2023. “It’s a tough sport. Everybody has to be quote-unquote tough. But I was like, I want to be who I am, and I want to inspire other people to be who they are, too.”
As of this writing, the 6’3” defensive lineman plays in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for the Colorado State Rams.