COLUMBIA, Mo. (TheBlaze/AP) — Westboro Baptist Church came to the University of Missouri’s basketball game against Tennessee Saturday to protest NFL hopeful Michael Sam, who announced last weekend that he is gay.
But many UM students, donning “Stand with Sam” pins, formed a human wall around Mizzou Arena to block Westboro’s protest, reported KDSK-TV in St. Louis. Nearly 5,000 people said they would attend, though not as many turned out in the 30-degree chill.
Wearing a shirt declaring “We Are All CoMo Sexuals,” 51-year-old Michelle Carmichael joined more than a thousand others in forming a line of support for Sam. She didn’t hesitate to answer why.
“Because Michael Sam stood up for Mizzou his entire career and we need to stand up for him,” she said. The shirt Carmichael wore plays off the nickname of Columbia, Mo., where Sam announced to his teammates in August that he was gay.
Inside the arena Saturday, Sam received a standing ovation when he appeared on the video boards during the game.
The All-America defensive end who could became the first openly gay player in the NFL, later blew a kiss to the student section and shook hands with fans.
Sam and football team were honored at halftime for their Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State.
Mason Schara, the student body president who posted Monday on Twitter that he’s gay, said the university will always treat Sam as one of its own.
“The majority of us knew and we just didn’t think anything of it because that’s just who we are here,” Schara said. “The fact that there’s been such a positive reaction across the nation is what sparked us to be here today.”
The fervor surrounding Sam’s announcement quickly died down on campus after coach Gary Pinkel and athletic director Mike Alden said Monday that they supported the 6-foot-2, 255-pound player.
Sam also had not been seen publicly this week before joining teammates and Pinkel at the basketball game.
Supporters weren’t concerned that Sam’s draft status might drop because of his sexuality, saying he should be judged by his numbers on the field. Others expressed hope that Sam will inspire more athletes to feel comfortable in coming out, because there will always be people who support them.
“I am hopeful that the NFL won’t care about something like this,” Schara said. “It doesn’t matter about his sexual orientation. He’s a great player and everyone would be lucky to have him.”