Gonna state an unpopular opinion about Michael Sam: I think he’s an attention whore.
This has nothing to do with him being gay. I applaud him for coming out, a decision that has exposed him to the inevitable cacophony of insults from the many bigots and idiots in this country. What he did was a huge step for the gay and lesbian community, sports and society as a whole. The kiss? I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bit of a shock to the system – it’s just not something I’m used to seeing – but I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t get choked up in the same way I got choked up when Dennis Quaid’s character in Disney’s The Rookie called his wife to tell her that he’d been called up to the Majors (something about men fulfilling a lifelong sports dream does it for me, I guess).
But just because Michael Sam is gay doesn’t absolve him from the same sorts of criticisms heaped, in differing ways, at Johnny Manziel, Richard Sherman and Tim Tebow. Sam, it seems, loves the attention he’s getting. The latest? From Pro Football Talk:
Rams defensive end Michael Sam is getting a reality show.
The Oprah Winfrey Network announced today that it is working with Sam on a reality TV project that will show his life as the first openly gay player in the NFL.
“We are honored that Michael is trusting us with his private journey in this moment that has not only made history but will shape it forever,” Oprah Winfrey said in a statement. “I am proud of the focus on authentic storytelling in our new documentary series format.”
There’s been no word on how much access the Rams will give the reality TV cameras, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the team has some qualms about it. NFL teams generally prefer for their rookies to put all their energy into football, not outside projects. That’s why A.J. McCarron quickly distanced himself from it when his fiancee, Katherine Webb, was reportedly in talks for a reality show. And that may be why Sam, in a statement, made clear that his focus is on making the team.
“Like every player out there working to make a team right now, my focus is on playing football to the very best of my ability,” said Sam. “I am determined. And if seeing my story helps somebody else accept who they are and to go for their dreams too, that’s great. I am thankful to Oprah for her support and excited to work together.”
Sure, his existence in the NFL is a big deal. He’s breaking ground in many of the same ways that Jackie Robinson broke ground (though you can say, I’d argue rightfully, that Robinson’s trail was much more difficult to blaze). Unlike Robinson, however, Sam is bringing much of the attention on himself. The collective reaction when he came out as being gay was, largely: That’s cool. He’s gay. Can he play? That’s where we’re at as a somewhat advanced society (mostly). That’s a good thing. But Sam, and his PR team, coordinated the announcement with multiple outlets in order to maximize exposure. He did an embargoed interview with ESPN. He started a Twitter account. He launched a website complete with a shop. He allowed ESPN’s – and now we learn Oprah’s – cameras in for draft day. And his cake-smashing, while endearing, was oh-so-perfectly framed by those cameras.
So the claims that his focus is on football and that this is a “private journey” ring somewhat hollow. In fact, it’s not a private journey at all. It’s a very public journey, one that Sam has willingly signed up for. And the potential problem, for his new employers, is that he’s a seventh round draft pick who might not even make the team and now he’s going to come to camp with likely the added distraction of reality TV cameras (in addition to the expected media throng and probably Sal Paolantonio yelling inane platitudes at you or Ed Werder looking unhealthy). And though the circumstances are different, imagine if Manziel brought a reality show to camp. Hell, imagine if DeSean Jaccson did it. Chaos.
"I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam the football player, not Michael Sam the gay football player." –Sam, Feb. 22, 2014
— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) May 15, 2014
Sam shouldn’t be criticized because he’s gay. But he also shouldn’t be immune from criticism because he’s gay. And given the evidence thus far, it’s fair to ask whether he’s more interested in being a football player or a celebrity. There’s nothing wrong with either answer (or even option C: both). But don’t feel like you can’t question his motives.