Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Will documentary distract Sam from goal?
By Nick Wagoner
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- It should come as no surprise that St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher contacted former player Wade Davis to speak to his team about how to embrace and accept Michael Sam, the league’s first openly gay player.
Fisher has a long history of finding ways to build the right chemistry on his teams. He also has been doing it long enough to construct an equally impressive Rolodex that he can call upon when needed.
Having Davis, who played for Fisher in the early 2000s but didn’t come out as gay until 2012, speak to the team on Monday at Rams Park was a smart move.
It also wasn’t the only Sam-related news to come out Wednesday evening. The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) announced it had purchased the rights to a documentary series following Sam’s life.
The release from the network included the following from Sam in a statement.
"If seeing my story helps somebody else accept who they are and to go for their dreams too, that's great. I am thankful to Oprah for her support and excited to work together."
For as wise as it was for Fisher to bring Davis in to help his team and staff better understand what it is to have a gay teammate, it’s fair to wonder if the documentary series is equally unwise.
After speaking with Davis, it’s easy to understand why Fisher chose him to make the presentation. Davis speaks eloquently on inclusion and equality but also has a football background, which allows him to connect with current players.
In recounting his visit with the team, Davis said he spent time with Sam and Rams director of player programs La’Roi Glover. The discussion was focused on how to make Sam’s life as football-centric as possible.
“He’s got to bear down and say football is the No. 1 thing in my life right now and nothing else is going to interfere with that,” Davis said. “The great thing I love is that Michael’s first question to La’Roi Glover was, 'How do we remove all distractions?'”
Well, one way to limit distractions would be to eschew media requests that go above and beyond the normal duties of an NFL player.
While it’s certainly understandable to want to document a groundbreaking, historic story, it also doesn’t seem conducive to making it all about football, which was the message Sam delivered repeatedly throughout his introductory news conference Tuesday.
For their part, the Rams did not know about the Sam documentary before drafting him but were informed soon after the choice was made.
According to a report from ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell, Sam’s representatives had been negotiating the deal for the past two months. But just because the deal was made and the series was in the works before the Rams drafted him doesn’t mean they will be allowing any special access.
In fact, the Rams don’t plan to allow any special coverage of Sam, including to those filming the documentary. In other words, the film crew will have the same media access as everyone else for anything taking place at Rams Park or any other team events.
Those restrictions should limit any undue distractions for the team, but can the same be said for Sam as he pursues a roster spot?
The transition to the NFL is a difficult one for any rookie and the amount of attention Sam has already drawn will likely continue even if it tapers off some in the next few weeks.
Sure, Sam will spend most of his days at Rams Park unencumbered with the rest of his teammates, but the cameras will be waiting for him when he leaves.
Based on Fisher’s efforts to bring Davis to town to speak to his team and the other measures being put in place by the Rams organization, they’re doing all they can to ensure Sam’s surroundings are as comfortable as possible.
Whether Sam is doing the same for himself away from Rams Park remains to be seen.