Predictably and annoyingly, the Westboro Baptist Church has set its sights on the University of Missouri after football all-star Michael Sam announced his plan to become the first openly gay man to play in the NFL.
On the upside, Westboro, a few anonymous NFL staffers and the run-of-the-mill homophobes seem to be the only ones offended by the announcement. First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden tweeted Sam messages of support. The hashtag #StandwithSam swept across Twitter. Sam's teammates and coaches admitted that not only did they know he was gay, it really didn't change anything.
The epicenter of the celebration is Columbia where students formed two giant letters in the snow to get the school's famous Rock M to spell "Sam."
— Mizzou (@Mizzou) February 10, 2014
That kind of support for a gay man draws the Westboro Baptist Church like flies to a dungheap.
The hate group loves going to Mizzou; the school's prestigious journalism school guarantees an army of wannabe reporters will cover their every move. The group tweets that they'll arrive at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
So two Mizzou sophomores, Kelaney Lakers and Alix Carruth, are planning a demonstration to counter the protest with a silent human wall in solidarity to Sam and "the Mizzou family."
"Our hope is for the wall to reflect a unified student body and symbolize a display of love towards our own tiger, Michael Sam," Lakers and Carruth say in a carefully worded statement sent to press. "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."
Hours after posting details on Facebook, more than 3,000 people responded they'd be there. But Lakers and Carruth are learning quickly that there's no way to please everyone.
Many oppose any kind of counter-demonstration that gives attention and press to the hate group's presence. Others want to bring picket signs or hold a spirit rally. With thousands of demonstrators possibly planning to attend, Lakers and Carruth admit they can't take responsibility for everyone's actions.
"Mizzou is a very diverse campus," say Lakers and Carruth. "The student body is made up of people from all over the world with different beliefs. There is no easy way to make a blanket statement that correctly summarizes the beliefs and motives of every individual. But we do know that Westboro's hate is wrong, and we can agree to stand against that."
Lakers and Carruth say they designed their event after the 2012 human wall at Texas A&M, where students blocked the hate group from a soldier's funeral. Westboro never showed up -- which is a possible scenario for this weekend's scheduled protest.
Lakers and Carruth even laid out ground rules for their demonstration, based on the Aggies' human wall: No engaging with protesters, stay in a line, bundle up, leave if police ask you to.
"We will police ourselves," Lakers and Carruth post on Facebook.
"We are not a mob. We are a family."