As I sat at my desk Wednesday afternoon, I watched a good portion of the St. Louis Rams’ press conference introducing seventh-round draft pick Michael Sam to the local media.
It was a first, on a couple of levels.
It was the first time I ever remember seeing a seventh-rounder’s presser broadcast live to the entire nation on ESPN. Of course the reason for that is the second first (can that be a thing?) — Michael Sam is the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team.
I’ve been fascinated by this story since Sam revealed his sexuality back in February. I marveled at how Sam handled the situation prior to his senior season at Missouri and was even more amazed that the story never leaked during the entire college football season, which was one of the best in Tigers’ history.
In fact, Sam has said and done all the right things in this matter, until Wednesday.
The first question directed to Sam during the session was about whether or not he had thought about being a trailblazer in American sports history.
“No, all my focus has been on playing and trying to make the team,” Sam responded.
That’s the correct answer.
Sexuality aside, Sam is just one of 41 seventh-round picks who will have a hell of a time making their respective teams. Only 28 of 48 seventh-rounders drafted in 2013 played in the league last season.
But in all walks of life, actions speak louder than words. Such is the case with Sam, too.
After his press conference Wednesday, word leaked that Sam has signed on with OWN — Oprah Winfrey’s television network. A documentary about Sam’s journey to the league will be produced and TMZ reported that Sam has been involved in filming of the project for several weeks.
One problem: the Rams didn’t know about the project.
More importantly, this decision by Sam shows that this isn’t solely about making the Rams roster and it is at least partially about documenting his historic place in sports lore while cashing in during the process.
From the OWN Network’s press release:
This special documentary series will feature a deeply personal, up-close look at the remarkable man at the center of this groundbreaking moment in professional sports, as the All-American defensive end and SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year enters the competitive world of professional football. Cameras will follow Sam as he works to earn his spot on the St. Louis Rams all while under the intense scrutiny of being the first openly gay player in the NFL.
Camera crews create distraction. You’re probably thinking “Hey, what about Hard Knocks on HBO?” It’s fantastic television, but make no mistake, the cameras are a distraction. The biggest difference is that it’s a distraction focusing on several members of a team, not one.
One of Sam’s teammates spoke out Thursday. “It’s an interesting case that he gets to work with Oprah and have his own show, but I think it does raise eyebrows and it may be somewhat of a distraction,” the player told ESPN. “But this is our first time dealing with something like this, so we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out and how people react.”
I wish Michael Sam nothing but the best in his quest to make the NFL. He’s a very good football player and I firmly believe his brave decision to reveal his sexuality before the draft cost him.
The Rams saw potential and made the selection, without full disclosure on Sam’s part. He’s been a member of the team for five days and already teammates are offering anonymous quotes about him — and they don’t have anything to do with his sexual preference.