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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Michael Sam and the Media: It's not What You Think

Hey, did you know that Michael Sam is the first openly gay football player to be drafted?

And that he had a sack in a preseason game?

And that he sacked ESPN's other creation, Johnny Manziel?

And that he didn't make the 53-man roster?

And that he didn't get signed to the practice squad?

By the way, did you know that Michael Sam is the first openly gay football player to be drafted?

Seriously, how could we forget? ESPN adds that tag to every mention of Michael Sam on their "Bottom Line". And since when do 7th-round draft choices get a mention on the "Bottom Line"?

After his brief flirtation with Oprah Winfrey, one gets the feeling that Sam has learned his lesson. He gives every indication that he's ready to walk away from being a gay football player, and would be grateful to play football at all. For anyone.

Unfortunately, he may not get that chance. The media that loves to report on Michael Sam may lose their major story of the preseason. ESPN commentators are hinting that teams do not want a practice squad player who is going to get major media attention.

Let the irony of that sink in for a second. The commentators who work for the company that is obsessed with Sam are now saying that he might not make a practice squad because he gets too much media attention.

I have too many friends and Twitter followers who are more than happy to blame this on "the gays". Some are even cheering the St. Louis Rams for taking a stand against the "gay liberal communist anti-American anti-God media agenda" (and yes, that's a quote).

Just one problem:  Even if you believe that there is a gay/liberal/socialist media agenda, it's not driving the Michael Sam story. The excessive and obsessive presence of sports media is driving the story.

Think about ESPN for a minute. They have a reporter who is essentially devoted to covering the Dallas Cowboys, a team that hasn't won a second-round playoff game in 6,793 days. The NFL preseason may be the most boring sports "event" ever created out of nothingness in an effort to fill air time.

All those reporters need something--anything--interesting to justify their jobs. Anything that is a "first" or even the slightest bit out of the ordinary is going to make it to your iPhone, because some reporter is looking to stay employed. It's certainly more profitable if the story elicits strong emotions, even negative ones.

And it is certainly profitable for the World Wide Leader to keep their cash cow at the front of the headlines, even in the midst of baseball playoff races and the start of college football. As absurd as it may be, the reporters are doing the job that ESPN wants them to do, and the cash register keeps ringing.

This is not about anyone's agenda outside of the super-saturated, excessive, obsessive, and ever-intrusive world of sports media. If there is no story, one has to be created, and that's exactly what ESPN did. Michael Sam learned early on not to seek this kind of attention, but the craving for any kind of buzz means that the story is seeking him.

If the Rams took any kind of "stand" in this, it was against this ridiculous ESPN over-reporting that they endured, right down to their locker room shower habits. That may be what is scaring off teams, much more than the fact that Sam is gay.

Let's keep in mind that he is the first openly gay player to be drafted (just in case you missed it). There have been other gay players. Vince Lombardi IS the NFL, a man's man in a testosterone jungle and object of admiration even in the modern era. And he defended gay players at a much more ambiguous time. Sexual preference is much less of an issue for the locker room than a media that won't stop talking about it.

Sam's sexuality is much less of an issue than the fact that ESPN won't let it go. This is about a man who made what I believe to be a courageous confession, and is now trying to move past that in order to be an NFL player. ESPN's coverage probably won't keep him out of the league, but it certainly doesn't help.

Hopefully, Sam can navigate these difficult and annoying waters and get another chance to prove that he can play. He will have a much better chance to prove that he can (or cannot) play if the SPORTS media will drop the topic and let the man play football.

The good news in all this is that the Dallas Cowboys seem poised to sign Sam to their practice squad. If any team can handle the Sam media circus, it's the Cowboys. They'll probably revel in it.

And somewhere, silently in the night, Ed Werder is smiling. He'll finally have something to report about the Dallas Cowboys, no matter how irrelevant the story truly is.

Then again, stories about the Cowboys have been irrelevant for a while. 6,793 days to be exact.

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