Michael Sam and Oprah Winfrey's cable network have agreed to shoot a multi-part documentary series that will follow Sam as he attempts to make the St. Louis Rams roster. But that agreement has suddenly turned NFL watchers who had previously been in his corner into critics of the seventh-round pick's decision making.
On Saturday, Sam gave sports and equal rights fans one of the most moving live televised moments ever, when he broke down in tears after being chosen by the Rams in the NFL Draft and delivered a celebratory kiss to his boyfriend. Sure, there were those homophobes who bristled at the kiss and complained about ESPN. But most recognized the moment for what it was — a compelling example of pure human happiness recognizable by people of any sexual orientation.
Now that Sam appears to be parlaying that genuine moment into the very not-genuine world of reality TV, some football watchers are souring on this feel good story. "A few months ago, Sam asked fans to let their guards down and invest in him in a very different way than they do in, say, Johnny Football or RGIII," Deadspin's Drew Magary writes. "Now he's chosen the favored path of every D-list asshole in America."
Others, like NFL Network's Albert Breer, noted that this doesn't jibe with Sam's constant exhortations to be treated like any other player and judged on his football skills.
My own feeling on this is that if Sam wanted to have things be all about football from here on out, cutting that deal wasn't the way to go.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) May 15, 2014
"Doubt the Rams want a seventh-round Reality TV star," The MMQB's Peter King tweeted. Magary even goes so far as to suggest that the very moment that made Sam a star might not have been totally sincere. "Now that Sam has a reality show, can anyone believe with 100 percent confidence that the kiss he shared with his boyfriend on camera last Saturday was a real and true moment?"
Perhaps expecting this reaction, Sam reiterated his desire to be a pro football player first. "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," said Sam. "I am determined." The network also made it clear, through ESPN's Darren Rovell, that the reality show's cameras will not follow Sam to Rams practices and workouts. This despite the fact that HBO's Hard Knocks series, which goes deep inside one NFL team's training camp every fall, is wildly popular among football fans.
However, as a late-round pick who is not guaranteed to make the Rams team, Sam certainly has understandable reasons to take the reality show. He can spread his inspiring story far and wide, all while solidifying his personal branding and commercial appeal to the masses. Even successful NFL careers don't always last long, and Sam has to capitalize on every opportunity he can get.
On the other hand, reality TV is still considered the last refuge of the fame-hungry, and there's knee-jerk revulsion against those who willingly seek it out. Indeed, the list of NFL players who have had their own reality shows is mostly legendary showboats like Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson and Terrell Owens. That's not great company for Sam to be in.