ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports, you are at it again. During the times in the sports schedule where there is a natural lull in sensational sports-related stories, you have demonstrated the ability hustle and manufacture stories on the fly, sometimes even breaking big news stories ahead of the competition. However, when you are unable to dig up new stories on a regular basis, you will simply dissect the same old news stories to the umpteenth degree. Such is the case with your recent coverage of St. Louis Rams prospect Michael Sam. The seventh round pick with mediocre combine results is probably the most scrutinized, non-guaranteed contract having rookie in the history of the NFL, and has been the darling of the American sports media since disclosing his sexual orientation back in February. At this point in time, does his sexual orientation even matter in football? Well, usually it doesn’t, and, more importantly, it shouldn't.
There are no studies that discuss how sexual preference or personal fetishes have an impact on game statistics or on field leadership. However, Sam’s preferences have become fodder on the cable and radio sports news network because he is the first openly gay athlete in the NFL. To be certain, there have been others who have come out after their playing careers had already concluded, such as former Oakland Raider Kwame Harris and former Carolina Panther Esera Tuaolo. But the historical precedence inherent in his coming out cannot be overlooked. So we’re not throwing shade on your initial coverage at all. It’s all the side stories that continually trickle out. Initially these stories amounted to you sending a reporter into an NFL locker room, arguably the most testosterone-filled, non-military workplace in the world, and asking them whether or not they would accept a gay teammate. In addition, you provide these individuals with the veil of anonymity to get the real nitty-gritty.
Just as you anticipated, everyone and their mother had an opinion on it. Most of those opinions were anti-Sam and thus depicted as being anti-gay. When there are no repercussions for free speech then individuals are far more likely to speak against the accepted status quo than if their names were revealed. Those who dared allow their names to be mentioned in the subsequent stories were fined and suspended, such as defensive back Don Jones. Even the much-loved former NFL head coach Tony Dungy has been accused of being an anti-gay bigot for his stance on whether or not he would have drafted Michael Sam. But all of that was expected three months ago.
By now, we would have expected that ESPN and like-minded news networks would have moved on to other things, such as his on the field performance. You guys have done that as well, but you’ve continued your incredibly heavy-handed approach to covering Michael Sam's non-football attributes as well. As it stands, Michael Sam is leading the St. Louis Rams in total sacks in the preseason with three while tallying five tackles as well. As the Rams were preparing to trim their roster this week, you stepped into the light with another manufactured story about Michael Sam’s showering habits. I’ll reiterate that- his friggin’ showering habits! With all this talk about equality and fair play, did anyone over there give one iota of thought as to how the story about the showering habits of an athlete, especially an openly gay athlete, would come off? Well, just in case it didn’t cross your mind, it comes off as a contrived and desperate attempt to milk a scribbled up, anthrax-laden cow.
The report was done by Josina Anderson, who we love and respect, but she needs to be called out on this one. Reporting from St. Louis Rams training camp in Earth City, MO, the normally professional and razor sharp Anderson was asked how Sam was fitting in with his teammates. She responded by quoting veteran defensive lineman Kendall Langford calling him “just one of the guys”. Why wouldn’t he be considered “just one of the guys”? That should go without saying at this point, shouldn’t it? That is what he is, right? Just one of the guys? The Sportscenter segment should have faded to black from there but noooooo….quoting another annoying and anonymous source, Josina said “Another Rams defensive player told me that ‘Sam is respecting our space’ and that, from his perspective, he seems to think that Michael Sam is kind of waiting to take a shower, as not to make his teammates feel uncomfortable.”
Today it was reported that Sportscenter has apologized for this faux pas, but it isn’t the first time your story thirst has crossed the lines of sensibility and it will not be the last. However, as an African American woman in a predominately male industry, we would have thought Josina Anderson would have known better than to respond in the manner in which she had and shame on Sportscenter for baiting her with “How’s Michael Sam fitting in?” type comments. Let things work themselves out on their own. But by continually reporting on his every waking moment, ESPN and Sportscenter are becoming a part of the story. That, as you likely already know, is a journalistic no-no. Stop the madness and remember, there are some areas in sports that are actually off limits to everyone, including you.