In my town growing up, the game “Smear the Queer” was the unofficial name for a game we played a couple of times a week at the end of pee-wee football practice. The game was kind of simple: One player stood in the middle of a big circle and the rest of the team would circle around. Then, one at a time, the team would try to tackle the guy in the middle.

The coaches always called it Bull in the Ring. The players, on other hand, well, we had the other name. If you did well, there was a lot of shouting and back slapping. Fall down, then you were a pansy, at best, and a sissy, more than likely.

When you’re a gay kid, you get used to hearing those words. When you get older, you get used to worrying about how your reputation of being the gay guy is going to affect you in every new meeting or new job. When Michael Sam was dropped by the St. Louis Rams, it just reinforced that being out and proud can have its consequences. Yet again, we were shown that major sports didn’t want us. How else would you explain a top player from arguably the best college conference not getting signed, for the practice squad even?

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Thank you, Dallas Cowboys, for signing Sam and showing that we can have a place in sports. Thank you for not getting caught up in worrying about the distraction that others worried about. Thank you for showing all the kids who get called faggots and sissies on the court or on fields that there is a place for us, if we’re good enough.

Thank you for the hope.

While the rest of the NFL’s coaches seemingly gave the message that dealing with a gay player is too difficult, the state of Texas (not liberal bastions Boston or San Francisco) gave all the kids who think “hey, they’re talking about me” during a game of Smear the Queer someone to look up to.

See, Sam is more than just some gay guy or just some player. He’s a role model for all gay kids interested in the sports that provide a letterman’s jacket. He proves that they can do well, and there is a possibility that they can be themselves and succeed.

Here is a guy who kissed his boyfriend on national television surrounded by his family and friends to celebrate being drafted into the most macho mainstream sport. He was able to show genuine joy about getting drafted and not have it be a different reaction that was camera ready. And, all of this was shown on ESPN and was in sports pages.

Thank you, Dallas, for giving all gay people one more place to feel welcome and one more place to not feel like we need to hide.