Shortly before he became the first publicly gay player ever drafted by an NFL team, Michael Sam told reporters that he hoped in future he would be seen, "as Michael Sam the football player, instead of as Michael Sam the gay football player."
This weekend, that prospect seems as distant as ever, after a Christian anti-gay group announced plans to protest about the 24-year-old's recent signing by the Dallas Cowboys, at the team's stadium in Texas. American Decency said in a statement that it expected "thousands" to demonstrate today, during the opening game of the Cowboys' season, against the San Francisco 49ers.
Jack Burkman, the lobbyist who leads American Decency, said before Sam was drafted earlier this year that any team prepared to hire the gay player would be "roughed up financially". Christian conservatives, Mr Burkman said, would "not stop until the drafting NFL franchise cannot sell a single ticket, jersey or autographed football".
Born and brought up in Texas, until last season Sam played for the University of Missouri, where he was named the Southeastern Conference's joint best defensive player of the year. He came out after graduating, and made US sporting history when he was signed by the St Louis Rams in the seventh and final round of the NFL draft last May.
After he was picked, Sam famously kissed his boyfriend, fellow Missouri alumnus Vito Cammisano, on live television. Even President Obama congratulated Sam and the Rams, "for taking an important step forward in our nation's journey". Yet last weekend, the Rams dropped the rookie player as they cut their squad roster from 75 to 53 players. NFL officials then reportedly contacted other teams to find Sam a new home, and on Wednesday the Cowboys added him to their 10-man practice squad, with the prospect of getting into the main squad if he performed well in training. The American football writer Peter King, speaking on NBC, claimed the NFL had avoided a "nightmare situation" when Sam was added by the Cowboys.
However, the Cowboys' owner, Jerry Jones, told the Texan sports station 105.3 The Fan that the team had not spoken to NFL officials about signing Sam, and that it was "his availability, his position and his high motor" that led to his signing.
Mr Burkman said that by signing Sam, Mr Jones had "betrayed American values, Christian values, and his own city's values. The people of Dallas – and Christians all across this land – are about to make him pay a huge financial price. The Cowboys are no longer America's team."
The replica Rams jersey that bears Sam's name quickly became the sixth most popular in the NFL; pop star Harry Styles wore one at a One Direction gig in Missouri last month.
A spokesman for American Decency, which claims to have more than 3.6 million members, said in a statement that the group is made up of "like-minded individuals who feel that they need to come together and... [stand against] the deterioration of decency in American sports".
Mr Burkman is the author of "The American Decency Act 2014", which proposes banning "self-declared homosexual football players" from the NFL, unless teams provide facilities for them "that are entirely separate and distinct from the facilities used by heterosexual players".
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