UPDATE: The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) announced Friday night that the planned Michael Sam television program has been put on indefinite hold, according to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“After careful consideration and discussion with the St. Louis Rams, The Untitled Michael Sam Project has been postponed, allowing Michael the best opportunity to achieve his dream of making the team,” OWN president Erik Logan said in a statement. “We will continue to support him in his journey to earn a spot playing for the Rams.”
OUR EARLIER REPORT (Friday, 1:20 p.m.): The St. Louis Rams got more than they bargained for when they drafted defensive end Michael Sam last week. Four days after joining the National Football League in the seventh round of the draft, Sam announced he already has a contract for a television show that will chronicle his attempt to get a spot on the team. Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network will produce The Untitled Michael Sam Project (working title), according to a statement issued earlier this week.
In the documentary-style series, OWN will follow a “remarkable man” as he competes for a spot on the Rams’ roster “all while under the intense scrutiny of being the first openly gay player in the NFL,” the network said. Sam revealed his homosexuality in February. According to ESPN, the six- to eight-episode series will air this summer.
How the filming will work isn’t clear. Sam’s agent, Cameron Weiss, told ESPN the NFL owns exclusive rights to the cameras at Rams facilities, and OWN hasn’t asked for permission to use them. “We wouldn’t put the Rams in that position,” Weiss said. ESPN’s Ed Werder reported Sam didn’t tell the Rams or other NFL teams about the planned TV show before the draft for fear he might not get picked. The Rams drafted him 249th in the final picks of the draft on Saturday.
Since then, Sam has been a nationwide talking point, less for being drafted than for the tearful embrace with his boyfriend repeatedly shown on ESPN. The two men later smashed cake in each others’ faces and kissed, wedding-style.
Wade Davis, executive director of the LGBT You Can Play Project, has been working with the Rams to make sure Sam is welcome. “Hey, if any of you guys are uncomfortable, coach [Jeff] Fisher wants you to know his door is open,” Davis told Sam’s new teammates. “Everyone in this needs to have a voice.”
But the NFL is only interested in one voice. League officials fined Miami’s Don Jones for tweeting “OMG” and “Horrible” after Sam’s post-draft kiss. He’s banned from NFL facilities until he undergoes unspecified “educational training.” The accepted message, as seen in an Associated Press report Tuesday, is to call Sam a “role model.”
Sam told People magazine he originally didn’t plan to reveal his lifestyle until after the NFL draft. But he changed his mind at the NFL combine in February when many members of the media already knew. “I always knew I was different. I knew I had a male attraction probably in seventh grade,” he told People. “But I didn’t act upon it. I didn’t act upon it in high school. But college was different. College is all about experimenting. I did, and then I was like, ‘This is who I am.’”
How Sam tries to mesh those choices with his attempt to make the NFL is what the OWN show will promote. Sam can use his place in history to “shape it forever,” Winfrey said in a statement. “The Untitled Michael Sam Project promises to spark valuable, important discussion on life in America today,” she said. “Acceptance and illumination start here.”
But some LGBT supporters have criticized Sam for being too commercial with his sexuality, especially after he sold T-shirts with the rainbow symbol on his website. Drew Magary, a columnist for gossip website Deadspin and an LGBT supporter, decried the news of the documentary. “I can't trust any genuine moment to be genuine anymore,” Magary said of Sam’s kiss. “I always suspect I'm looking at the soft end of a product pitch.”