It’s unclear whether Michael Sam will realize his dream to recover a fumble in the National Football League, but he — and the Oprah Winfrey Network — have recovered from another kind of fumble by agreeing to postpone a planned docu-series devoted to his journey.
Coming on the heels of its show devoted to Lindsay Lohan, it’s no surprise OWN — seemingly determined to become less constrained by its “broccoli TV” profile — would try to cash in on the media heat surrounding Sam, the college star at Missouri who came out as gay before the NFL draft. Picked by the St. Louis Rams, he has the opportunity to become the first openly gay player in the league, breaking down a boundary already breached in basketball by Jason Collins.
Still, the key word in that sentence is “opportunity,” which was why so many in the sporting world — such as ESPN columnist Jason Whitlock — responded with head-scratching when the OWN project was announced.
As a late-round draft pick, Sam, a defensive end, is by no means certain to make the team. And his breakthrough will only have legs if he becomes a regular member of the Rams roster, at which point, hopefully, endorsement deals and all other manner of money-making enterprises will follow.
Sam’s OWN deal, in other words, looked like greediness — and at the very least naiveté — on the part of his representatives, so eager to exploit all the publicity that they put the cart ahead of the horse. Moreover, Sam’s people apparently failed to notify his potential team of his plans, which would seem like a ham-fisted move under any circumstances.
Those who are rooting for Sam — and based on the sales of his jersey, that’s no small contingent — have admired the grace he’s exhibited under the media microscope. And those attributes will likely serve him well as a symbol and spokesman going forward, whether he plays in the NFL for a year or a decade.
First, though, he needs to become a professional football player. And until that officially happens, it would be wise for his management to temporarily put Hollywood on hold.