Michael Sam Supporters Fend Off Westboro Baptist Church: "This Issue Is So Much Bigger Than Us"

If it makes a headline, it must be protested. So thinks the Westboro Baptist Church, which, in the last decade, has spent far more time picketing than praying. Not only has the Kansas church attempted to interrupt events headlined by the likes of Taylor Swift and the Foo Fighters, but the Westboro Baptist Church has used tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary and Tucson, Ariz., as a way to spread its homophobic message. So it's little surprise that Westboro saw NFL prospect Michael Sam's recent coming out as an opportunity to continue to spread hate. And, sure enough, on Saturday, the University of Missouri defensive lineman was forced to fight through protesters on his way into the school. But, in turn, protesters had to fight through the University of Missouri.

According to The Riverfront Times, the school's students prepared for the church's arrival after Westboro tweeted their intention to protest the football player at the school. Said two students, Kelaney Lakers and Alix Carruth, about their plan to form a "silent human wall":

"Our hope is for the wall to reflect a unified student body and symbolize a display of love towards our own tiger, Michael Sam ... We're humbled and a bit overwhelmed by the community's response. This issue is so much bigger than either of us, and we want to do justice to Michael Sam and show him that Mizzou loves him."

And the students certainly did — the Columbia Tribute reports that 500 students braved the cold to support Sam, fending off 14 members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Inside the school, the support for Sam was all the more present, with students giving the player a heartwarming standing ovation when, during halftime of the University of Missouri vs. Tennessee basketball game, he accepted the 2014 Cotton Bowl Championship Trophy.

Mizzou Athletics on YouTube

Of course, that 500 only accounts for a segment of the millions who have spoken out in support of Sam following his revelation, which could make him the first openly gay NFL player. President Obama, for one, praised the football player for his bravery — saying in a taped interview, "I really like the fact that Michael did it before the draft because his attitude was, 'You know what, I know who I am. I know I can play great football and judge me on the merits'" — while Michelle Obama also made her support public:

Sam's coming out also made viral news, with anchor Dale Hansen making his way onto Facebook feeds across the country for his statements on the NFL's hypocrisy when responding to Sam's revelation.

In turn, Sam himself has been gracious of the outpouring of love from his community, and throughout the nation. Following the silent wall on Saturday, Sam tweeted the following to the 500 participants:

It's a fitting tweet: Not only does such a mantra describe the support for Sam, but also the attitude that would benefit any football team on the field. Now, here's hoping the NFL follows suit.

Image: Michael Sam/Twitter