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Gay Football Player Hopes To Be Chosen By A NFL Team

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Football players who completed their college careers are in Indianapolis this week for the NFL's annual combine. This is an invitation-only event that showcases players who hope to be taken in April's draft. Former Kansas State offensive lineman Scott Frantz was not invited but is still hoping to catch on with a team. And as Greg Echlin reports, that would make NFL history.

GREG ECHLIN, BYLINE: Scott Frantz came out publicly three years ago, before his sophomore season at Kansas State, that he's gay. Should that be an issue for one of the 32 NFL teams? His agent, Brett Tessler, doesn't think so. In fact, Tessler would applaud the team that signs him to a deal.

BRETT TESSLER: I think it would be a great honor for them. I think it would be great publicity for them to have somebody who, you know, ended up becoming the first ever in the history of the NFL. There has never been an openly gay player who has made it in this league.

ECHLIN: Tessler spoke on Frantz's behalf because Frantz declined to comment for this story.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: First in goal, K State, on the GTU (ph) 7-yard line.

ECHLIN: The primary question is whether Frantz has the physical tools to play in the NFL. He's big enough at 6-foot-5 and tips the scale at more than 300 pounds. He's also durable, with 51 straight starts from his freshman to senior years. After last season, Frantz was recognized as a second-team All-Big 12 tackle. Conor Riley, his K State offensive line coach, says Frantz measures up.

CONOR RILEY: Scott's obviously a fantastic football player. He's got great feet. He's one of the smartest football players I've been around.

ECHLIN: Until now, the most visible case of an openly gay man attempting to play in the NFL was Michael Sam. Six years ago, the then-St. Louis Rams drafted him out of the University of Missouri. While Sam's presence at training camp became a media circus, it wasn't the reason he never played in an NFL regular season game.

RYAN O'CALLAGHAN: His play on the field didn't speak louder than the media (laughter). I'll leave it that.

ECHLIN: That's former NFL offensive lineman Ryan O'Callaghan. He's also gay but wasn't out when he played professionally. After retiring in 2011, he wrote a book called "My Life On The Line: How The NFL Damn Near Killed Me And Ended Up Saving My Life." Well, O'Callaghan says Frantz is entering a more accepting environment in the league.

O'CALLAGHAN: You know, I've had several meetings with the NFL specifically, and I've heard from a lot of closeted athletes, but I've also seen quite a few other athletes that have, you know, felt open enough to actually come out and live their life while they're still playing.

ECHLIN: Before retiring from the Kansas City Chiefs, O'Callaghan told someone in their organization before going public - then-General Manager Scott Pioli. Pioli says teams should ask about Frantz sexuality but not in the way you'd think.

SCOTT PIOLI: I think what would be the important question is, don't ask questions about his lifestyle and what he's doing and where he's going and who - ask the questions - OK, if we're going to make this work, how do we make this work? Clearly, it's worked pretty well at K State.

ECHLIN: Either way, Conor Riley says Frantz is prepared to address the subject of his sexuality.

RILEY: It is going to come up. Scott and I've discussed that. But Scott nor any football team should allow that to be any type of distraction for him continuing to go out and compete and produce on the football field.

ECHLIN: France told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last month that he's just like everyone else trying to make it in the NFL - quote, "If you show up and you're a good guy and you work hard and you play well, that's all that matters." For NPR News, I'm Greg Echlin in Kansas City.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMERICAN FOOTBALL'S "NEVER MEANT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.