Divided We Are Weak, Together We Are Strong: Michael Sam and Latin

Michael Gross


On February 9, former Missouri defensive-end, SEC defensive player of the year, and NFL draft prospect Michael Sam announced that he is gay. A shock wave propagated throughout the country. How are NFL teams going to react? How will this affect his spot in the draft? How will he be treated in the locker room? All questions disguising the overwhelming concern: how will there be an openly gay player in the NFL?

At Latin, the atmosphere is quite different. Earlier this year, we had a Coming Out Assembly, where LGBTQ members had the amazing, and probably nerve-racking, opportunity to share their story with their fellow classmates. Students and faculty watched and listened just as they would any other assembly: with full attention and complete appreciation and respect for who was speaking. At Latin, we don’t think twice before accepting the LGBTQ members into our community – it is instinctive. And, unfortunately, at Latin, we are sheltered from what goes on outside of our beloved building on the corner of Clark and North.

When Michael Sam announced that he was gay there was an uneasiness that echoed throughout those watching on. It was as if everyone was looking at each other, and wondering what to say – trying to force a mask of acceptance over their innate prejudice. There were NFL General Managers making public statements reassuring that Sam would receive equal treatment and, when it came to the draft, he would be judged on his football abilities and nothing else. When will we live in a world where acceptance of all is implied and we don’t have to wait on a GM’s “okay”?

Last April, Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran came out publicly as gay. While there was certainly heavy press that followed, it was not nearly as controversial as Michael Sam’s announcement. Why were the two instances so different? Is it because football is considered more of a “man” sport with its full contact? Maybe. The more likely explanation is that Collins was near the end of his career, not currently on a team, while Sam will get drafted to play in the NFL this April. So, those against openly gay professional athletes put their anger and disappointment aside because they believed Collins’s career was over. This past Sunday, Collins proved them wrong, signing a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets, making him the first openly gay player in North America’s four major professional sports. Was it coincidental that just over a week after Sam came out, Collins finally got an opportunity to play without hiding anything? Probably not. Most likely, the Nets and Collins were inspired by Sam’s bravery and wanted to show the world how far professional sports has come. How far have they come? How can we assess the progress of acceptance?

If we are looking at Latin, the world has come a long way. But, outside of a few small private schools, there are still several naysayers, to put it in the kindest terms. Last week, in response to Sam’s announcement, Mississippi State football player Rufus Warren tweeted “Being Gay Is Not a Man,” proving there is still a lot of intolerance out there.

Last Saturday, there was a sliver of hope. Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, infamous for picketing the funerals of U.S. soldiers with “God hates fags” signs as a sickening protest against gays in the military, had a new target: Michael Sam. Westboro announced they were coming to Colombia to picket Sam, who was scheduled to pick up Missouri’s Cotton Bowl Trophy at halftime of the Missouri-Tennessee basketball game. Leading up to the game, Westboro posted “GOD H8S FAG FOOTBALL PLAYERS & THEIR ENABLERS” on their website. This infuriated the campus. Two Missouri coeds had a plan to defend their former classmate: “Make a human wall to block out Westboro, a huge line of solidarity between their classmate and the Westboro stench.” By 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, over 2,000 people – students, parents, kids – formed a line stretching almost half a mile long, waiting in the freezing cold to stand up for a brave young man they had never met.

Across the street stood 14 members of Westboro Church, embarrassed, ashamed, and defeated as they should be.

As ESPN’s Rick Reilly so astutely put it, “Final Score: Love 2,000, Hate 14.”

Later, upon hearing the news, Sam tweeted a picture of the line with the quote, “Divided we are weak, Together we are Strong,” silencing not only those at Westboro but the nasty tweets from Mississippi State’s Rufus Warren, as well.

On Saturday, the people of Missouri stood united – the old, the young, the straight, the gay. Hopefully someday the rest of the world can follow their lead.