A documentary on athlete Michael Sam set to be produced by Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network has been put on hold. The network has shelved the project following lengthy discussions with Sam’s representatives, executives at OWN, and those affiliated with the St. Louis Rams.
Erik Logan, President of The Oprah Winfrey Network chose to push the pause button on the documentary following discussions with top brass at the St. Louis Rams. Logan and executives with the Rams came to the conclusion that a show featuring Sam at this early juncture in his career would be a distraction not only for Michael Sam but for his entire team. Erik Logan stated that as historic and significant as Michael Sam is to the sport of football, OWN will postpone the project for the time being and allow Sam the opportunity to focus on being the best player possible and a success on the football field.
Michael Sam has been making headlines and history as professional football’s first openly gay athlete following his seventh-round pick by the St. Louis Rams in the recent NFL Draft. Sam came in just under the wire, being chosen the 249th overall selection. Many insiders with the NFL believed Sam’s disclosure of his sexuality would prove detrimental in being selected during the draft. Many projected Sam would have been picked in the third or fourth round of the draft. Some believed his late pick in the seventh round was due, in part, to the issue of his sexuality while others said Michael Sam’s performance during the NFL Scouting Combine failed to meet expectations. Sam was described as too small to play defensive end and not fast enough to play outside linebacker.
The Oprah Winfrey Network had been in preparations to produce a documentary series centered on Sam, shining a spotlight on his personal life and journey into making the NFL draft. According to reports, Sam’s representatives had apparently kept knowledge of the project hidden from the NFL and the St. Louis Rams. With word of the project being leaked to the press in recent days, the NFL and the St. Louis Rams responded negatively to the idea of Sam becoming the subject of a reality television show. Even though a documentary about a gay athlete would appear to be television sensationalism at its most exploitive, those at OWN said the intention of the series would be to showcase Michael Sam as an inspirational figure, and a man who overcame personal obstacles to achieve his dream, breaking down barriers and emerging as a hero to many. Out of respect for the NFL, OWN has officially shelved the project.
The Oprah Winfrey Network recently attempted a similar effort with a docu-series centered on troubled actress Lindsay Lohan. That show did not live up to its intention of profiling a young woman who was putting her troubled life back together. In the series, Lohan presented herself as a self-centered, problematic, and irresponsibly tarnished starlet. Despite a strong defut, ratings of the show quickly declined, prompting OWN to quickly halt promotions and decline an option for a second season.
While a documentary on Michael Sam would not be like watching the train wreck of Lindsay Lohan, the NFL and the St. Louis Rams did not want to take a risk that of the hard work of its members would be overshadowed by reality television cameras. While the project has been officially shelved by OWN for the time being, Michael Sam’s story of courage and bravery can be forever found in the pages of history books.
By Hal Banfield