When Michael Sam, the first openly gay player in NFL history, was cut by the St. Louis Rams at the end of August, it was unclear whether or not any team would be willing to welcome him into their ranks. But at the end of last week, the Dallas Cowboys saved Sam by giving him a place on their practice squad. The move is a win for Sam, who is eager to earn a spot on an NFL roster, and for the Cowboys, who could use a strong defensive player. There’s just one problem: Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the homophobia.
When Michael Sam’s Dallas signing was announced last week, a Christian group called American Decency, led by Jack Burkman, organized a protest for yesterday’s home game against the San Francisco 49ers. “We cannot just stand idly by as Christian values and morals are trampled,” Burkman said. “We will do whatever we can to preserve family values in this country.” For all his talk of morality and family values, though, Burkman doesn’t seem particularly concerned that the NFL has a divorce rate well above the national average or that it has an embarrassing track record of inadequate responses to domestic violence.
Did thousands of angry Christians respond to Burkman’s rallying cry and materialize outside AT&T Stadium yesterday? According to some initial tweets, it seems as if the protest was cancelled due to alleged “death threats,” although one Twitter user smartly speculates that it could have been because of the exorbitant cost of parking at the stadium:
There was supposed to be a protest about Michael Sam outside Cowboys AT&T stadium. Canceled last second. Joker ain’t even playing! #cowboys
— jdub3000 (@jdub3000) September 7, 2014
LOL that group of Christians cancelled their little protest for Michael Sam bc of death threats. 😂
— ?????? ? (@iloveemyah) September 7, 2014
— Anthony Koontz (@AJKoontz) September 7, 2014
— wyndll (@wyndll) September 7, 2014
It seems as if the only group of people holding up signs outside of AT&T Stadium yesterday were showing their support for Michael Sam:
— PaddyNation (@PaddyNation) September 7, 2014
Whatever the reason for the Christian protest’s cancellation, the fact remains that Michael Sam continues to generate controversy as he descends deeper into an institution that is as homophobic as it is uniquely American. After losing his spot on the Rams and serving as the target of a planned anti-gay protest at his team’s first game of the season, Michael Sam could use some support right about now. Here are a few ways for football fans to show support for Michael Sam at the start of the season:
1) Change your Facebook profile picture or cover photo to a photo of Michael Sam smooching his boyfriend.
Remember last year when all of your friends changed their Facebook profile pictures to a red equal sign to show support for marriage equality and then the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal in every state and Justice Scalia came out as a Kinsey 6 in the opinion? Well, maybe just the first thing happened. Posting pro-LGBT messages on Facebook won’t necessarily change the world but it will piss off bigoted friends and family who might otherwise assume that you’re complacent about cultural politics.
If you’re deeply invested in football and also support Michael Sam, try changing your Facebook picture to this adorable photo of Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend after smashing cake in his face. Post a status update so you show up in your friends’ feeds, put on a pot of coffee and wait. A friend or relative will privately message you or leave a bigoted comment on your photo within 24 hours, guaranteed. Their message will probably start: “I have no problem with gays, but do you really have to…” Yes, grandpa. I really have to show you these adorable boys making out with frosting all over their faces.
You’re not going to change hearts and minds with this social media gesture, but you might learn which of your fellow football fans are due for a swift unfriending.
2) Host a Brokeback Mountain viewing party before the next Cowboys game.
Invite all your friends over on the morning of the game, put on Brokeback Mountain while you get the snacks ready, and then patiently wait through all two hours and fifteen minutes of Ang Lee’s gay opus. Shush anyone who tries to talk during the movie. When the credits finally roll, you should say “Hopefully we’ll get to watch some more gay Cowboys in the future, amirite, guys?” And then run around the room to try to collect some high fives from your groaning friends. That’s a pun that will be worth every minute you put into it.
3) Keep an eye on the Dallas Cowboy forums.
While most fans on the Dallas Cowboy forums reacted positively to the news of Michael Sam’s signing, there are a handful of folks who clearly have homophobic motivations. User “America’s Cowboy, for example,” claims that Michael Sam “obviously [came out] for attention” and wants to know if he will “have his own locker and shower room.” Another user insinuates that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones brought Sam on for the media attention (and so that he could sleep with him).
If you’re a Cowboys fan, and you have the stomach for some Internet debate, keep an eye on these forums and try your best to counteract casual and overt homophobia with some pro-Sam fabulousness. I’m not saying that you should start pro-Sam threads full of RuPaul’s Drag Race gifs, but I’m not saying that you shouldn’t.
4) Tweet at Michael Sam and show him some love.
Here is Michael Sam’s Twitter account. If you scroll through mentions of his username, however, you’ll quickly see the sort of hatred that gets lobbed at him every day, simply because he dares to be a black gay man in the NFL. Racist and homophobic NFL fans are quickly exhausting all possible combinations of the N-word and the F-word on social media. If you have a Twitter account, take two seconds out of your day to compose a tweet to Michael Sam letting him know that you think he’s brave to be out in the NFL. Maybe throw a picture of a puppy in there, too? (Here’s one wearing a Cowboys uniform for good measure.)
Michael Sam himself might not see this show of support, but I’m sure that whoever runs his Twitter account would be happy to report back that his mentions are full of pro-gay puppies.
5) If you’re a Christian, take the pledge at Believe Out Loud.
The controversy surrounding Michael Sam on the Religious Right is further proof that the Christian community is in the middle of a decisive cultural moment with regards to LGBT equality. As bigots like Jack Burkman loudly decry the mainstream acceptance of people like Michael Sam, it’s more important than ever that pro-LGBT Christians take a strong stand for equality. By taking the Believe Out Loud pledge, you’re committing to “stand up for LGBT equality” at your church and in your community.
You can also use the Believe Out Loud website to find out where your particular denomination stands on LGBT equality so that you can have the information you need to advocate for change within your church. Campaigning for change within the Christian community sends a powerful message that the people who want to protest Michael Sam don’t represent Christianity as a whole.