After Missouri’s football star and NFL prospect Michael Sam announced he was gay earlier this month, the University of Missouri community has poured out an overwhelming amount of love and support. This past Saturday was no different.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a group notorious for its extreme ideologies against homosexuals, announced plans to protest Mizzou’s support of Sam. On Feb. 15, the group set up a picket outside the men’s home basketball game versus Tennessee at Mizzou Arena. WBC tweeted hateful things toward Sam the week prior to its visit, provoking an overwhelming response from the students of Mizzou. The protestors planned to be near Mizzou Arena at 1:30, so a group of students gathered 30 minutes earlier to show their support and “Stand with Sam.” With numbers exceeding 4,000, the counter-protest stretched down the block and out of sight from the Westboro Baptist Church, which had a mere 10 or so participants.
In the line, students didn’t hold signs. No one screamed profanities at WBC. No one tried to verbally or physically fight back against the picketers. People merely stood with their backs to the members of WBC in solidarity, with an empowering support of their fellow tiger, Michael Sam. Every student followed the rules set by the university and local law enforcement, opting to swap anger toward the hateful group for support for Michael Sam and the LGBTQ community. Though the tone of the event was serious, that didn’t stop students from having some fun–someone in a nearby dorm blasted music from an open window, and those involved in the counter-protest sang the alma mater’s song and the Missouri Waltz together. Those involved treated the event as a celebration of what Mizzou is as a university, and treated the WBC protest as more of a “don’t feed the animals at the zoo” type of interaction. Inside the arena, the basketball game started promptly at 3 p.m. At halftime, Mizzou honored their Cotton Bowl champions, who were then presented with the trophy. Sam was the first player to hold the trophy up for the Mizzou crowd. Naturally, the crowd erupted into a standing ovation. After the team began to make its way off the floor, Sam sprinted to the student section and performed his famous tackle celebration.
As a Mizzou student, I’ve never been so proud of my community. Everyone at the event was excited to be a part of something that meant so much more than retaliating against WBC; the event was less of a protest against the group, and more of a show of support and love for Michael Sam. Everyone gathered to display the unity and tolerance that our university has built, and in this case, the only thing stronger than the hate and discrimination shown by Westboro Baptist was the love and acceptance shown by Mizzou. It was amazing to see a group of people from so many different backgrounds come together, stand in frigid temperatures, show support for Michael Sam, and create a chain so powerful, it might’ve been the only line Sam will ever be incapable of breaching. On that day, both inside and outside the arena, students truly embodied how and why the school’s motto is “One Mizzou.”
[via CBS Sports]