On Michael Sam – Buyer Beware, There’s Media Afoot

By Matthew Marczi

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.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • RW

    The media is the worst.

  • AndyR34

    Too many of ou

  • Chad H

    Who cares, if he can play then let him. Don’t make an issue out of it. Let him have a private life like everyone else. The media will blow this issue into something it isn’t. We are all kidding ourselves if we think this is the first gay player and I will bet there are players right now that don’t have to courage to admit their sexual preference.

  • joed32

    If he drops to the 5th round they will call it discrimination. They should just back off of the publicity and let the man sink or swim on his own merits. I think he’s good enough to play but even I have been wrong about draft picks before. Many, many times.

  • CrazyTerry

    I personally thought Tebow got a raw deal in NY. The Jets were crazy not to use him more often in short yardage and at the goalline. THey did give him some early chances but it seemed so half hearted. It wasn’t like he was playing for the Giants who already had a top QB. Denver thrived on tebowmania.

    Though if the Steelers happen to get Sam, then it would actually be in their best interests to be on Hard Knocks because players will be better behaved around cameras.

  • Axe Skot

    This may be semantics, but it isn’t the media, it’s the lowest common denominator of trash mag, tabloid audience that is to blame. No doubt the media stokes the fire, but it’s the type of insecure and obsessed people that buy the Enquirer and Star, not to mention religious fundamentalists that take it upon themselves to be moral judges that make something “newsworthy” not the media. ‘Whatever sells’ is their mantra. I, for one, wish that people would learn to mind their own business when it comes to other people’s personal lives. Having said that, any potential teammate, coach or GM is right now questioning this kid’s motives. Is he a football player or more interested in social martyrdom? Hats off to his Missouri teammates for keeping it under their helmets and not letting it be an issue, though. All that being said, I would be shocked to see the Steelers draft him.

  • 20Stoney

    He could diffuse a lot of that attention himself by just not talking about it. Make his one time statement “this is who I am, and from here on out I’m only talking about football.” They’d get tired and go away if nothing was fed to them.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Sam was in a no win situation here. Rumors were brewing on his sexual preference and if he said nothing I am sure it would have been brought up by teams and the media once they caught wind of it which would been a spectacle but now that it is out there is this big hoopla over it. I do not condone his life style but in America he has that choice and it shouldn’t be this big of deal and in all honesty it shouldn’t even make the news.

  • treeher

    Whatever team he lands on, they should answer initial questions and after that, the questions are off limits and just don’t respond.

  • James Kling

    I think that’s his best tack as well.

  • george

    Maybe the Jets will get Tebow back, sign Incognito and draft Sam to save the rest of the NFL the media circus.

  • SumnerYoung

    Sam will undoubtedly take ribbing from teammates and opponents. But the great thing about football is you can knock your enemy out cold with a vicious hit and not be thrown into jail for assault and battery.

  • Brendon Glad

    I don’t think it will be an issue. All he has to do is maintain a quiet, highly professional approach. He doesn’t even need to be a good player. And then it will pass, and he will either be a veteran in the league because he’s a good player…or he will be out of the league because he is not. But he DOES (and it’s not fair, but he still DOES), need to hold himself to a higher professional standard than the average rookie NFL player needs to. And to me, it’s clear he has is fully aware of that and is ready to embrace a social issue bigger than himself. If we, for sake of analogy, compare his situation as the first openly gay male NFL athlete, to Jackie Robinson’s journey as an African-American integrated pro-athlete, then I think it’s safe to say that African Americans probably are quite thankful that Jackie Robinson was Jackie Robinson….not Adam “Pacman” Jones, or someone similar. So I’m equally sure that the gay community is hoping for a similar “flawlessness” to be shown by Sam. So, in summary, Sam has a bigger professional responsibility than most…(and yes, unfairly)…but i’m convinced he’ll handle that responsibility with class and dignty. So it’s a good day for the NFL, and athletic society.

  • Josh

    The media will certainly make this a bigger issue than need be, but I’d argue that even they can’t keep interested for that much time. Again, once the season starts and an unexpected team goes 3-0, the refs blow a big call in a Sun night game, etc. this immediately gets pushed aside. Happens every time.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    Donte Stallworth said it real well, if your team is afraid of the media and can be distracted by them, then it already sucks.

    As for Sam, I hope he does well.

  • Brendon Glad

    Yeah, there is no train that will ever equal the Tebow circus. He DID get a raw deal. As far as he, himself was concerned. But I actually really thought I would want him as a player on my team, in some form or fashion…DESPITE his obvious flaws. But once I saw the circus that involved his presence on a team…any NFL executive outside of Jax would be stupid to bring that distraction inside. I still think Jax should, but they are stupid like that…they actually think a “distraction” would hurt them, as if distracting people from how bad they suck would be a problem.

  • CrazyTerry

    I too am shocked JAX never took him after his release by NE. What do they have to lose? Use him as a slash and he is a marketing bonanza.

  • tim

    If he drops to rd 5 thats not going to be called discrimination, Mel Kiper Jr already predicted him to be between a 3rd to 5th round pick… If you drop it around five I guarantee you the Steelers pick him, watch…and I bet he’d be a better lb than a few guys we already have

  • tim

    Look what happened to Marshsan Lynch when he didnt wanna talk? He’ll address it,the media be there with cameras in the locker room the first time he goes to shower to see if anything will happen and then it will all die down… Lol

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Well said.

  • LayDownTheHammer

    The only reason this is an issue is that the NFL is the most conservative pro sports organization in the nation. Let’s be real: the guy doesn’t tackle players any differently, doesn’t hit on/touch teammates in inappropriate ways, and doesn’t do warmups/practice in different ways. People have literally nothing to worry about, and if they do, that’s their damn problem.