It was the draft pick heard 'round the world—-whether or not you actually knew what the draft was. The St. Louis Rams picked Missouri defensive end Michael Sam in the seventh and final round of the NFL draft on Saturday, making Sam the first openly gay player ever drafted to the league.
There was a lot of speculation as to whether or not any team would dare draft the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, that Michael Sam would be a "distraction" in the locker room, an investment not worth the risk, and that who he is off the field would affect whether or not he would ever step on the field. The Rams didn’t see a distraction. They saw an opportunity, and with the 249th overall pick, they made sports history.
Being the first anything comes with a lot of pressure, a lot of expectations, and a lot of resistance. So how is Michael Sam handling it all? Apparently, with the help of Oprah.
From the network that brought you the documentary series "Lindsay" comes a new kind of documentary. OWN—-that’s right, Oprah’s OWN—-is working with Michael Sam on a reality based TV series that follows his journey on his road to becoming an industry first.
Though there were those who criticized Sam for his PDA, including former Super Bowl champion Derrick Ward and Dolphins safety Don Jones, the overall reactions to Sam’s historic moment were overwhelmingly positive.
There are those who say Sam should have gone much earlier in the draft; that fear dictated the ticking clock on draft day and removed Sam’s name from most teams’ potential picks list. The argument that Sam would be a "distraction" to any organization was code for a culture that doesn’t tolerate deviation from the norm. In an interview with Fusion’s Alicia Menendez, former Vikings punter and gay rights advocate familiar with the word "distraction" Chris Kluwe said:
"Distraction is code for, it can be code for bigotry. It can be code for 'We don’t like this so we don’t want it around,' and it can also be code for 'I don’t understand this, so I don’t want to have to deal with this'," he said. "The thing that coaches and GMs apparently fail to realize is that NFL is the greatest reality show on television. Every season there’s a distraction. I mean, to think that just because Michael Sam is gay is going to be a distraction that breaks the NFL’s back, that’s ridiculous!"
What is ridiculous is how ironically accurate Kluwe’s analogy would be. As National Lead Writer Dan Levy noted, knowing a football player is gay is one thing, but seeing a football player be gay on television is something different entirely. Michael Sam was changing an institution simply by becoming a part of it, and the reality show takes away from that powerful subtlety. Though I’m pleased the Rams could see past the political BS in drafting the first openly gay NFL player, and though I wish Sam the best as he attempts to become the first openly gay player in the NFL, the cynic in me has to admit: A full camera crew—-how can that NOT be a distraction?