It has been a busy week for Michael Sam. Last Saturday, with the 249th overall pick, the St. Louis Rams made him the first openly gay man to be drafted by an NFL team. Then, on Wednesday, it was announced that the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) reached an agreement with Sam to produce a documentary series on his journey to become the first openly gay man to make an NFL roster.
It was a surprising piece of news to hear after Sam and his camp assured us that the Missouri defensive end wanted to be a football player, not a gay rights activist. In February, Sam’s publicist, Howard Bragman, told me that “if Michael starts to do 25 interviews and starts riding in every gay pride parade, and accepting every offer that comes our way, we run the real risk of looking like he’s more interested in activism and celebrity than playing football, and that’s not the case.”
He added, “It’s hard to say no to people who call you who you recognize by one name.” And here we are, three months later, with The One-Namer herself: Oprah.
There is a case to be made for The Michael Sam Show (or whatever it will be called). Cameron Weiss, one of Sam’s agents, explained on ESPN’s Mike and Mike that “we view it as important for the world to see what this individual is going through. It’s probably something that will never be replicated and has potential to change lives.”
Making an NFL roster is already difficult enough, and Sam has a lot of work to do if the Rams plan to keep him at defensive end, where Robert Quinn and Chris Long play. But on top of all that, Sam is planning to allow cameramen into his home after practice. I can’t imagine the production of this docuseries not becoming at least a small distraction to Sam, an added weight on his shoulders as he tries to start a professional football career.
If he doesn’t make the Rams’ roster, he doesn’t achieve the milestone we’ve been waiting for him to achieve. And then the docuseries suddenly loses most, if not all, of its appeal.
Besides, what will this docuseries show its audience, exactly? Weiss said that OWN would not ask the St. Louis Rams for access to training camp practices, which is good. But if they can’t shoot any footage of Sam at practice, what will they be able to show us? I imagine we’ll be more formally introduced to his boyfriend. There will be no shortage of talking heads and jump cuts to Sam hanging out with his family. Beyond that, I don’t know.
I am excited to see whether Michael Sam makes the 2014 St. Louis Rams. I look forward to the day I see him not only on the field, but making tackles and big defensive plays in NFL games. There are very few social milestones in sports like this left to be reached. But a documentary series will likely do Sam more harm than good.
As Bragman told me in February, “Michael, the gay community, we all benefit from the day he walks out on the field in uniform as an openly gay man and plays good football.” And that is exactly where all of Sam’s focus should be this summer. If he wants to make an impact in gay rights history, he is better off looking at his playbook, not at the cameras.
Click here to read my behind-the-scenes look at the Michael Sam announcement from February.