Please excuse the media as they turn yet another issue into a self-reflective narrative about themselves.
With a few notable exceptions, the overwhelming majority of the response to college defensive end Michael Sam stating that he is homosexual has been one of support and admiration, and tacit acknowledgement that his future success in this league will be based on how well he can play football.
Yet nearly to a man, when posed the question about what would be the biggest obstacle for a team drafting a gay athlete, the response has, equally overwhelmingly, been about dealing with the media.
Everybody from Bill Polian to Jonathan Vilma to Ryan Clark spoke about the media’s role in how Sam will be dealt with once he enters the league, and virtually none of it was shown in a positive light.
There was talk of public relations organizations working with the team that drafts Sam to discuss with players and coaches how to talk about Sam when asked about him. This very notion seems absurd to me.
Yes, there will be some media attention coming from outside the sports world that is no more concerned about how the narrative relates to sports and the locker room culture than is necessary to actually report the story. Obviously, civil rights and LGBT advocates will be covering at least the early portions of his career with great interest, along with many other outlets, I’m sure.
That much is naturally understandable. It’s the same when the league’s first Chinese-born player entered the league, or any other player with a unique history. Even Michael Oher received added attention due to The Blind Side, which actually had some negative impact for him in the locker room as an easy target for prodding.
That is not what the main issue is, of course. It’s primarily to do with the football media and how they will not only perpetually talk about Sam and how he’s fitting in with his team, but how they will stoke their own fires by repeatedly asking his coaches and teammates and himself about how he’s fitting in.
It’s an endless circle of generating their own content that we’ve seen before many times, most recently, I suppose, with Tim Tebow and Manti Te’o. And it’s not necessarily the reporters themselves, though many of them will willingly follow it.
The simple fact of the matter is that all media covering the team that drafts him—as well as every opponent that team plays that season—will be obligated by their outlets in some way, shape, or form to cover the story, because that is the broader narrative that transcends sports that will sell content.
Even the self-deprecating humor as show hosts and commentators mock themselves with lines beginning with “let’s not kid ourselves here” and ending with some derivation of “we are the media” often rings hollow, as though it’s all part of the narrative itself. Of course they’re the media—they know they’re the media; and they know what it takes to power the motor that makes their business go.
No doubt Sam will receive some type of hazing and ribbing, either by his own teammates or from his opponents on the field, about his sexual orientation. But if you’ve followed any coverage about the topic in the past two days, you’ll know that his biggest obstacle right now isn’t an offensive tackle, it’s the media.
Just ask the media; they’ll tell you themselves.