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The complicated problem with Trey Lance’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes cleats

The San Francisco QB’s experiences with the group helped him grow, yet FCA is an anti-gay organization.

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals
Trey Lance was the first pick by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When Trey Lance selected the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as the organization he’ll highlight for the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats campaign this week, he says he didn’t know he was supporting a group that advances homophobia and codifies anti-gay bigotry in its policies.

I believe him.

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback had for years been a member of the organization’s Southwest Minnesota chapter as a young athlete, he told Outsports via a 49ers spokesman.

Since he was in fourth grade, Lance had found a home with the other kids and adults in and around FCA. The organization had given him the opportunity to build fellowship as a youth, which was important to him. Now in the NFL, the rookie quarterback wanted to give back to the organization that had meant so much to him growing up.

To be sure, no one can make the claim Lance is personally homophobic simply because he supports an organization that meant so much to him as a kid.

He told Outsports through a team spokesperson that he had no idea FCA advances anti-gay policies, as he doesn’t remember hearing any homophobia — or any conversation against same-sex marriage — in and around the organization while he was an active member as a youth.

I’ve heard this over and over from people, some of whom have been FCA members — even LGBTQ athletes who at one point found their way into the FCA fold. The homophobia in some of the chapters isn’t heavily discussed, though you can rest assured the people leading those discussions are not gay.

No doubt, Lance is a devout Christian. He promotes that proudly on his social media bio, often quoting Biblical scripture.

Yet I learned long ago that just because someone is Christian doesn’t mean they hate gay people. No one can take his support of FCA or the fact that he’s Christian and make the claim that Lance is homophobic. He has specifically addressed this with Outsports and says he supports the LGBTQ community and inclusion.

Again, I believe him.

Still, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is founded on a deep-rooted homophobia. It is central to the organization and one of the group’s nine core statements of belief, saying specifically that sex between two people of the same gender is wrong, and same-sex marriage is forbidden:

We believe God’s design for sexual intimacy is to be expressed only within the context of marriage, that God created man and woman to complement and complete each other. 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.

When reached by phone, Minnesota FCA communications director Tanja Hansen confirmed that their state organization agrees with the national organization’s position against same-sex marriage.

In addition, FCA discriminates against LGBTQ people for consideration for employment or volunteer leadership roles, saying specifically that they must adhere to the “sexual purity statement,” even away from their job during “non-working hours.”

FCA employees shall at all times (both during working and non-working hours) endeavor to conduct themselves in a manner that affirms biblical standards of conduct in accordance with FCA’s Christian beliefs. Such conduct standards include FCA’s Youth Protection Policy and Sexual Purity Statement.

Fellowship of Christian Athletes spokesperson Debbie Hamilton confirmed with Outsports that anyone who wants “to be employees or volunteer leaders in any form of FCA’s ministry are required to agree upon and sign” FCA’s commitment to its belief system.

Can you imagine if an NFL player — no matter how he personally feels — supported an organization that forced its employees to sign a statement of faith that said Black people or women are barred from leadership roles? Or made a statement against interracial marriage part of its core belief system?

That’s what FCA does to LGBTQ people and same-sex couples.

Last year there were three NFL players listed as supporting FCA with their cleats, though none are listed this year. Cody Davis of the New England Patriots is now supporting Axe ALS; Koda Martin of the Arizona Cardinals and Case Keenum of the Cleveland Browns do not have cleats listed this year.

Lance is the only player listed by the NFL in 2021 as elevating the Fellowship of Christian Athletes during the My Cause My Cleats campaign. Hamilton told Outsports that there are “many players representing FCA in this year’s NFL My Cause My Cleats campaign.” When asked for the list of players, Hamilton did not respond; An NFL spokesperson said it’s “unlikely” there are others.

Either way, Lance’s personal history with the local organization makes this a more complicated issue. I understand wanting to give back to a group that he felt gave so much to him. I do.

Plus, NFL players have an agent, publicist, and a team staff to catch this kind of issue. And FCA’s homophobia has been written about in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and various other publications. Hell, Chick-fil-A has stopped donating to the group. How did no one raise this issue for the young man?

Lance now has a great opportunity. While Hamilton bragged that FCA’s anti-gay policies have been around for 60 years, given his connection to the local chapter and his NFL platform, Lance likely has an avenue to talk with the group and help adjust policy.

He’s not the only one. Whether they have “FCA” on their cleats or not, there are plenty of other supporters of the group in the League who can help create change. But that can start with Lance.

Because let’s be honest, the “quarterback-of-the-future” for the team in San Francisco supporting a group that bans gay people from leadership and disavows same-sex marriage is not a good look, no matter how you look at it.

“This is an opportunity to grow for Lance,” Niners Nation editor Kyle Posey told me. “I’m curious to see whether the future face of the franchise acknowledges his mistake, owns it, and corrects it. There isn’t one way to go about doing this, which gives Lance plenty of leeway. The question is, will he?”