Commentary

The right message

Sam could gain more for LGBT community by just focusing on making the roster

Updated: May 15, 2014, 8:42 PM ET
By Jason Whitlock | ESPN.com

I say this as a supporter of Michael Sam, I say it as a reformed homophobe, I say it as someone who believes the equality of black and brown people is connected to the equality and freedom granted to gays and lesbians:

Michael Sam's decision to do a "documentary series" -- reality TV show -- on the Oprah Winfrey Network is a gigantic tactical error for Sam and his supporters within the LGBT community.

America, for the most part, would wrap its arms around Michael Sam, the gay, underdog football player fighting to find his place in the NFL. America, for the most part, will reject Michael $am, the gay, in-your-face political/media pawn using the NFL as a platform to launch his celebrity brand.

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
Courtesy of Darren RovellMichael Sam's popularity showed as his St. Louis jersey was the second-best seller behind Johnny Manziel's on NFL draft weekend.

Michael $am contradicts Michael Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year who repeatedly swore he just wanted to focus on football, not his sexuality.

Oprah and her foundering TV network do not care about X's and O's. They care about salacious and sensational human drama and the kind of XOXOXs that take place in the bedroom. For context, OWN is the documentary-series home for Lindsay Lohan, the child actress-turned-serial drug-rehabber.   That is not written to suggest OWN does not do and aspire to do high-end TV journalism (Lance Armstrong interview). It's written to imply that even Oprah's standards cave to the demands of Nielsen ratings.

Michael $am undermines the credibility of Michael Sam.

It all feels orchestrated now: the draft-day kiss; the cake-covered face; the tears; the celebration that conveniently captured just Sam, his boyfriend and his two agents; and even the "Stand with Sam" T-shirts selling on michaelsam.com.

Who knew a reality TV show was being filmed? Who knew Sam's agents (Cameron Weiss and Joe Barkett) and publicist (Howard Bragman) had cut deals to be producers on the reality TV show?

This is all scripted and amateur. And devious, too.

Michael Sam, the football player, is being used ... by everyone. Weiss, Barkett and Bragman are cashing in. Oprah is hoping an attachment to the NFL can breathe life into her network the way the league does for CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN. The LGBT movement appears to be more concerned with Sam advancing the cause than making the roster. And, yes, the cause is more important than football. But playing football advances the cause a lot more than Real World St. Louis.

On Wednesday morning, before the announcement of the reality show, I interviewed Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of outsports.com, about the male-male   kiss. I was planning to write a column that would discuss how parents should talk to their kids about Sam and the kiss.

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergMichael Sam's draft stock dropped after a poor performance at the combine.

"I'm so glad [ESPN] broadcasted it," Zeigler said. "I hope they broadcast it 100 times a day for the 100 days. We have been protecting kids far too long from themselves. There are kids 7 or 8 years old who realize they are gay, and they've been raised in the world that has told them for 7 or 8 years that it is either wrong or certainly not how they're supposed to be.

"The faster parents can tell their kids, the more lives those parents are going to save."

I get it. I understand the urgency.

But Sam has to play in the NFL to be an effective role model and pioneer. He has to fit into a locker room environment before he can transform that environment.

He is simply not a good enough football player to travel with Oprah's circus and the NFL's. He needs to choose one. He's a seventh-round draft pick who ran a 4.91-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He's a special-teams player.

Sam's handlers have misinterpreted the comparisons between Sam and Jackie Robinson. No. 42 had Hall of Fame talent from day one. No one questioned his skill. His teammates could not deny his obvious ability to excel in the majors and help the Dodgers win.

I know the meme: Sam was SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American. Of course he can play in the NFL.

Well, Jackson Jeffcoat, son of former NFL defensive lineman Jim Jeffcoat, was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American at defensive end. He was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. Jeffcoat did not get drafted and signed a free-agent contract with Seattle.

I believe Michael Sam can play in the NFL. I've written that, and stand by those words. His approach to making a roster is wrong. The NFL unemployment line is littered with guys who had enough talent to play but brought the wrong attitude. In terms of approach, Sam reminds me of Vince Young, the Texas quarterback who came to the league with the wrong handlers in his ear and washed out at a young age.  

Sam reported to the combine out of shape and embarrassed himself. He launched a website that is a merchandise store. He complained about being drafted too low. And now he's signing up for a reality show focused on his personal life and professional journey.

He's a seventh-round pick. This is preposterous. I support Michael Sam and the movement he represents. However, if I were Rams coach Jeff Fisher, I'd consider cutting $am today. He's a marginal player with questionable focus on the game.

Michael $am thinks he's Jadeveon Clowney, a freakish defensive end with questionable passion for the game. Clowney could get away with a reality TV show, a merchandise store and scripted draft-day love scenes. Clowney's upside is so enormous that coaches and teammates will tolerate his diva tendencies the same way coaches and players tolerated Randy Moss for years.

This thing with Sam is playing out so bizarrely that I now wonder whether his handlers/manipulators totally misread his talent and the NFL. It appears they read "SEC Defensive Player of the Year" and assumed that meant "the next Lawrence Taylor." They're likely baffled that Clowney could play in the same conference as Sam, post inferior stats and be the toast of the NFL draft while Sam is a few picks from Mr. Irrelevant.

Michael $am is not the right play for the LGBT movement. Michael Sam would uplift the cause and set the table for a gay superstar football player.

Michael $am will be run out of the NFL quicker than Tim Tebow, another celebrity brand whose talent did not justify the circus that followed him.

• Columnist for Fox Sports from 2010-2013
• Columnist at the Kansas City Star for 16 years
• ESPN.com Page 2 columnist from 2002 to 2006

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.