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These NFL players’ cleats support homophobia and oppose bullying

Six NFL players are raising money for the anti-gay Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Four support the end of bullying.

Denver Broncos linebacker Malik Reed is wearing cleats that raise money for Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which bans gay people from leadership and endorses conversion therapy.
NFL

My Cause My Cleats is front-and-center this week for NFL players, with hundreds of them wearing cleats specially designed to support various causes.

At least 10 of those players are engaged with causes that either actively support homophobia or aim to undo the power of anti-LGBTQ bias.

Fellowship of Christian Athletes is anti-gay at its core. The organization lists opposition to same-sex marriage and same-sex sexual activity as part of its nine main statements of faith:

We believe God’s design for sexual intimacy is to be expressed only within the context of marriage. God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

To be clear, by FCA’s policy no LGBTQ person is allowed to marry the person they love or have any sexual contact with them. Their policy is patently discriminatory against an entire class of people.

The organization takes it further, including its anti-gay bigotry in a leadership application. It goes beyond its statement of faith, forcing people in some applications to support the damaging concept of conversion therapy, which says a gay person can be un-gayed by a commitment to god. Anyone wishing to be part of a leadership team with certain FCA chapters must agree to the following:

God desires His children to lead pure lives of holiness. The Bible is clear in teaching on sexual sin including sex outside of marriage and homosexual acts. Neither heterosexual sex outside of marriage nor any homosexual act constitute an alternative lifestyle acceptable to God.

While upholding God’s standard of holiness, FCA strongly affirms God’s love and redemptive power in the individual who chooses to follow Him. FCA’s desire is to encourage individuals to trust in Jesus and turn away from any impure lifestyle.

(Bolding was added to highlight the part of FCA’s own statement that seems to openly support conversion therapy, the debunked and life-threatening idea that gay people can become straight if they follow god.)

Six players are wearing cleats supporting and raising money for the anti-gay Fellowship of Christian Athletes:

Matt Barkley, quarterback, Buffalo Bills
Malik Reed, linebacker, Denver Broncos
Cody Davis, safety, Jacksonville Jaguars
Matt Orzech, long snapper, Jacksonville Jaguars
Alec Ingold, fullback, Oakland Raiders
Case Keenum, quarterback, Washington Redskins

In almost a cruel double standard, Reed’s cleats (pictured above) say the word “love” while opposing certain kinds of love.

Barkley has gone beyond the cleats, raising money for FCA on Twitter. He thinks the “work” FCA is doing is “tremendous”:

Ingold thinks “God is love,” even though he is raising money to oppose my marriage to my husband, the man I’ve loved for over 16 years:

Keenum took his support for FCA to Instagram:

On the flip side, no athlete we can identify is wearing cleats supporting any organization specifically designed to support LGBTQ inclusion and equality.

However, four NFL players are wearing cleats supporting STOMP Out Bullying, a worthy cause that includes upending homophobia and anti-LGBTQ bias, along with racism, that lead to bullying as main foci of the group’s work.

Those four players:

Cedrick Wilson, wide receiver, Dallas Cowboys
Jonotthan Harrison, center, New York Jets
Tyrell Williams, wide receiver, Oakland Raiders
Demone Harris, linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In addition, New York Jets running back Ty Montgomery is supporting his own charity that includes the support of gay people. Tampa Bay kicker Matt Gay is also wearing a “Stop Bullying” message on his cleats, though reports do not share what charity he is supporting.

Kudos to these men!

On the one hand, we have to consider the possibility that the players supporting FCA don’t know about or understand the group’s banning of gay people. The players’ aim is likely to support their faith, not harm LGBTQ people. The latter is, in all likelihood, collateral damage the athlete hasn’t even considered. But collateral damage it very much is.

Of course that raises the question whether the four athletes supporting STOMP Out Bullying know they are opposing homophobia, or if it’s just a general opposition to bullying.

Hopefully someone will ask these players after their games, as all but Wilson are playing Sunday.

Some may take this support of a patently anti-gay organization as proof the NFL is anti-gay. It’s not. We at Outsports have chronicled many of the NFL’s efforts — by players, teams and the league — to stand against homophobia and support the LGBTQ community. We continue to believe an openly gay player in the league would find powerful support.

This latest episode with six players raising money for anti-gay causes doesn’t upend that, it’s just another chapter in a long, complicated story for the league.

Some may also take criticism of the six athletes supporting homophobia as a rejection of Christianity. It’s not. Christians are not mandated to ban gay people from leadership positions. Many Christians love, support and embrace LGBTQ people.

Instead, Fellowship of Christian Athletes puts forward a particular discriminatory version of Christianity. Sadly these six NFL players — whether they realize it or not — have chosen to support bigotry.

Either way, some criticism should be directed the NFL’s way. That it allowed six of its players to raise money for an organization that bans gay people and supports conversion therapy is completely unacceptable. The league would never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever allow an organization that bans, for example, women or people of a certain race.

This oversight is damaging at best. And I’ll be waiting to see how the league corrects this.

It will be interesting to see if in the coming days these players raising money to support homophobia will equally donate to LGBTQ causes like GLSEN and You Can Play. That will tell us a lot about their intentions.