One of the subplots that will be followed throughout Michael Sam's journey is how he deals with the media attention that will come with trying to be the first openly gay NFL player.
Before the draft, he was quiet, giving almost no interviews from the scouting combine to the time the St. Louis Rams selected him in the seventh round. That kept the attention at a minimum. Think about it, how many significant stories did you see about Sam in the two months before the draft, other than those from analysts breaking down his NFL draft stock?
Now that Sam has been drafted he's entering into one very high-profile media opportunity. OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, will produce a multi-part documentary series on Sam's life. The press release promises that the OWN 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."
“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,” said Winfrey in the release. “I am proud of the focus on authentic storytelling in our new documentary series format. The next real-life story we follow in ‘The Untitled Michael Sam Project’ promises to spark valuable, important discussion on life in America today. Acceptance and illumination start here.”
“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,” Sam said in the release. "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.”
On one hand, Sam is correct that his story can help others and inspire. If a documentary reaches some of those people, it's a positive. And if Sam is making some money off it, good for him. The signing bonus for a seventh-round pick is not big, and nobody looked twice when Jadeveon Clowney or Johnny Manziel signed shoe deals before playing an NFL snap.
There's another side of it, however, that Sam will have to deal with. While NFL players have been almost entirely supportive of Sam publicly, no rookie is supposed to voluntarily invite cameras to follow his every move, especially not a seventh-round pick. That's one reason the Cleveland Browns are trying to restrict access to Manziel in his first offseason. Rookies are supposed to be seen, not heard, and Sam is making a lot of noise by letting Oprah's network follow him around.
Sam can and should do whatever he wants (as Yahoo columnist Dan Wetzel pointed out) and if he wants to get his message out, go for it. But some NFL players aren't going to love it. Not because Sam is gay, but because he's a rookie drawing attention to himself. That attitude is never going to change, although in this case you're likely never going to publicly hear a negative word about it, now that the NFL has made it clear that any negativity toward Sam will be dealt with in a swift manner.
Sam is trying to get his story out to as many people as possible, and that's a good thing. NFL veterans might not be so keen about the idea.
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