- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Michael Sam is caught between a pair of dynamic forces pulling him in opposite directions.

On one side is the NFL and his teammates on the St. Louis Rams, who hope the seventh-round draft pick isn’t a distraction as he attempts to earn a roster spot.

On the other side is an army of advocates and activists, who hope the league’s first openly gay player capitalizes on his role and blazes a trail.

The NFL won the first showdown last Friday, when Oprah Winfrey’s TV network put plans for a Sam docu-series on indefinite hold. In a statement, Sam’s agent Cameron Weiss said the postponement “will allow for Michael to have total focus on football, and will ensure no distractions to his teammates.

St. Louis Rams seventh-round draft pick Michael Sam takes part in a drill during a rookie mini camp at the NFL football team's practice facility Friday, May 16, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
St. Louis Rams seventh-round draft pick Michael Sam takes part in a ... more >

“Everybody involved remains committed to this project and understand its historical importance as well as its positive message,” he said.

We’ll see how long that commitment lasts if Sam doesn’t survive final cuts.

For those who want him to blitz the establishment and mainstream media, that’s the danger in biding time. His place in history is secure, but his relevancy will plummet if he never suits up in the regular season. He can always point to the draft, which should guarantee a decent living as a celebrity spokesman, if nothing else.

But he has to make the team in order to achieve maximum impact for gay rights.

Agreeing to let Oprah’s cameras follow him around seems like a contradiction to observers who wonder if Sam was sincere after the draft. He vowed he was all about football and said he wanted to be judged foremost on that basis. Yet, he’s selling T-shirts and buttons on his website and signed an unprecedented TV deal with Oprah.

None of that would exist if he was a straight seventh-round pick.

However, that doesn’t mean he’s not serious about football, either.

Sam won’t do anything to knowingly jeopardize his shot at the NFL. He just figures that his ability and his work ethic are sufficient to overcome any outside distractions. In that way, he’s like all the other young athletes who believe they’re immune to forces that topple mere mortals.

Besides, the NFL knows that serious preparation and cable entertainment can co-exist. HBO has enjoyed inside access during training camps for eight seasons worth of “Hard Knocks.” (As fate would have it, the Rams qualify for compulsory participation this year, so we still might see plenty of Sam even without Oprah).

No one questioned Robert Griffin III’s commitment to football when he came into the league and became a pitchman for Subway and Gatorade. He maintained enough focus to lead Washington to the playoffs and win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Chances are great that he could’ve done likewise as the subject of a docu-series.

Story Continues →