Sam Maden is 12 years old. He loves the Boston Red Sox. And he believes in equality, inspired by his Uncle Chris, who died unexpectedly in January at the age of 43.
So when Sam's teacher recently asked him to come up with a project that could "make a difference" in the world, Sam had an idea to merge his love for the Red Sox with a cause his uncle believed in passionately: ending the bullying of gay kids and kids perceived to be gay.
Inspired by news that the San Francisco Giants had responded to a fan's petition on Change.org by announcing they would become the first pro sports team to create an "It Gets Better" anti-bullying video, Sam came up with an idea to ask his favorite team on the planet -- the Red Sox -- to step up to the plate.
Sam decided to honor his uncle by starting a petition asking the Red Sox to make an "It Gets Better" video as well. In the last 24 hours, more than 5,000 people -- mostly Red Sox fans -- have signed Sam's petition on Change.org.
Sam, who currently plays on three baseball teams and was invited by the Red Sox to shout "Play Ball!" before a sold-out crowd at Fenway Park, thinks a video from the team could be a milestone in professional sports.
"When I found out about my uncle's passing, I didn't know what to do," Sam Maden said. "This is something I can do to honor him. Uncle Chris knew how much I love the Red Sox and I think he would have been thrilled with the team making an 'It Gets Better' video to support kids."
Sam's mother, Tara Maden, said that the loss of Uncle Chris had a profound impact on the family -- and especially Sam. Before his uncle died, he gave Sam a necklace from The Trevor Project, a national organization that works to curb violence and suicide among LGBT young adults. Sam wears it every day, in memory of his uncle.
"I'm so proud of Sam," said Tara Maden. "Stopping the bullying of gay teens has become very important to him. It's his way of channeling his grief over the loss of his uncle into something positive. If the Red Sox can become another voice telling kids that life does get better, it could have a big impact on these kids and homophobia in sports."
Sam's petition spotlights the momentum building in professional sports to confront homophobia and create a welcoming environment for LGBT athletes, following controversial incidents involving baseball coach Roger McDowell and basketball star Kobe Bryant. Currently, there are no openly gay athletes playing in any of the four major pro sports, as ABC News recently highlighted in a story about 2011 possibly being a watershed year for LGBT athletes.
In May, the San Francisco Giants announced plans to make an "It Gets Better" video after lifelong fan Sean Chapin started a petition on Change.org supported by more than 6,000 fans. In response to the Giants announcement, more than 30 sports fans from around the country have launched petitions on Change.org urging their favorite sports teams to produce an "It Gets Better" video.
More than 10,000 "It Gets Better" videos -- including contributions from President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and corporations like Apple, Google, and Microsoft -- have been produced since syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his partner Terry Miller launched the project in September 2010 in response to an epidemic of teen suicides by gay kids and kids perceived to be gay.
Watch Sam announce "Play ball!" at a recent Red Sox game.