Is Oprah Winfrey distracting Michael Sam and his chances of making the St. Louis Rams roster? The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) announced yesterday that it had acquired the rights to make a documentary about Sam as he tries to become the first openly gay player in National Football League history to make an NFL roster.
It is hard to tell how this helps Sam fulfill his dreams of playing in the NFL but it would be easy to see how it could hurt those chances. Details of the project have not yet been disclosed but ESPN reported that the Rams were not aware of the documentary prior to drafting him and that Winfrey and Sam had been in negotiations regarding the project for two months prior to the draft. ESPN also reported that Winfrey and her production company will have no access to team facilities or team dormitories during training camp.
This information could not have been welcome news to Rams head coach Jeff Fisher who is already on the record as saying he did not want to be a part of the HBO series Hard Knocks because of the attention and intrusion it brings. Sam’s decision not to tell the Rams could easily be construed as an act of bad faith and at the very least this is a lack of disclosure to a potential employer. This is not the best way to start a relationship with a new head coach, especially when Sam is considered a fringe player at the moment. This comes on the heels of what most experts considered a successful off-season for the St. Louis as they try to build a team that can contend in the NFC West with the likes of the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.
Bigger questions still remain. Is this really a documentary or a reality show being framed in a better light? How does this latest bit of news play with veterans in the Rams locker room? Fair or not Sam already has something of a target on his back. Being the subject of a television production, whether it be a reality show or a documentary just makes that target bigger. Her intentions may be to further the story of the NFL’s first openly gay player but is Oprah Winfrey distracting Michael Sam instead? At the very least Sam is walking a fine line for a rookie who was barely drafted.
Sam had a great deal of public support before this announcement but cynics will point out he should be focusing on making the team and activism can wait until he actually makes an NFL roster. Sam’s desire to document his path and become an activist is admirable but the timing of it is debatable.
Winfrey and his supporters would say the two are intertwined and Sam’s story is bigger than the dogma of the NFL. Presenting this story would be a benefit and inspiration to many in the gay community. Certainly that is true but if Sam does not make an NFL roster the story suffers and so too does his goal of playing in the NFL.
Either way the dye has been cast. Sam will have his story told no matter what ending lies in front of him and that is a good thing. It would be better if he makes the Rams roster. Time will tell whether that happens but for now the question remains. Is Oprah Winfrey and her network distracting Michael Sam? Or would Winfrey and Sam been better served by waiting to do this?
Commentary By Mick Varner
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the St. Louis Rams