SBD/May 16, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Knew About Sam's Docu-Series Before Draft, But Teams Were Unaware

Sam's docu-series is now scheduled to air sometime after the Super Bowl
The NFL "knew before the draft" that Rams DE Michael Sam had "agreed to allow the Oprah Winfrey Network to produce a 'docu-series' on his journey to an NFL roster," but the team learned of it Sunday, according to Joe Strauss of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. The league had "signed off on the project unbeknownst to its 32 member teams." If the Rams "weren’t duped, they were at least gently misled by the league’s silence." While it is "fair for an athlete to exploit his visibility for gain," those players "typically aren’t seventh-round draftees who insist they prefer to play down their lifestyle while media continue to exploit it." A number of Rams players "apparently voiced displeasure to management Thursday shortly after learning about the Oprah project." Sam's "uplifting narrative now becomes tinged by collateral controversy." Empire Athletes co-Founder Cameron Weiss, who reps Sam, on Thursday insisted that "no part of the six one-hour segments will be shot at Rams Park." The series was "originally scheduled to air in October," but it will now "be held until after the Super Bowl." The Rams "conceivably could cut Sam six months before the series runs," which "might produce its own mushroom cloud." There is "more smoke than fire if Weiss’ description proves true," but the Rams’ learning about Sam’s TV deal after the draft "fosters a notion of potential friction" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/16). An anonymous Rams player said, "It's an interesting case that he gets to work with Oprah and have his own show, but I think it does raise eyebrows and it may be somewhat of a distraction. But this is our first time dealing with something like this, so we'll have to wait and see how it plays out and how people react" (ESPN.com, 5/15).

AGENT MAN: Weiss said of Sam appearing on OWN, "We were very cognizant of the fact that this is a historic undertaking and with Mike being the first potentially openly gay player to make an NFL roster, we thought that it was crucial to show some behind-the-scenes footage and show what was going through Mike's mind." He added, "We had conversations with the league office about the documentary" prior to the NFL Draft and "everything was fine." Weiss said since the Rams were made aware of the series, "we've been in constant dialogue with them" and have been "working together to make sure this is not a distraction for Mike nor for the Rams organization." He added the team has "been very accommodating and we're coming to a nice balance where Mike is allowed to be part of the team, have no cameras on him during OTAs, during rookie mini-camp, during training camp and when he's away from the team … then we can get some footage." Weiss: "Just because Mike is the subject of a documentary, not a reality show, does not mean he can't focus on football. … You just have to look at programming that's going on throughout sports and the NFL, between 'Hard Knocks,' 'A Football Life,' even '30 for 30' and these are compelling stories that people enjoy watching and don't take away from the product on the field" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 5/15).

ALL ABOUT FOOTBALL? In K.C., Vahe Gregorian writes Sam's show is "distressing not just because it’s hypocritical to the mantra that Sam wants only to play football and to be treated like everyone else." The "most troubling" ramification is that one "can’t help but wonder how much of all this actually is about staging and posturing and the commodification of Sam." It "clarifies vague notions about the remarkably controlled and scripted packaging of Sam’s story from the moment it was made public through three strategically handpicked media outlets in February." It "makes it so you can’t doubt that his rare media appearances before the draft were shrewdly scheduled" to "tightly craft his image and message, increase demand for him and lend to his mystique." Something has "rung inauthentic from the start about the handling of Sam, and that vibe of contrivance detracts from this important matter as much or more than it helps it" (K.C. STAR, 5/16). ESPN.com's Jason Whitlock wrote Sam's decision to do the show is "a gigantic tactical error." Oprah and her TV network "do not care about X's and O's," but rather they "care about salacious and sensational human drama." Sam's story "all feels orchestrated now." Sam is "simply not a good enough football player to travel with Oprah's circus and the NFL's," and he "needs to choose one." His handlers have "misinterpreted the comparisons between Sam and Jackie Robinson" (ESPN.com, 5/15).

HISTORICAL RECORD
: ESPN's Max Kellerman said of the docu-series, "This has to be done" and Sam's life "needs to be documented." He added, "This is archival, important stuff" ("SportsNation," ESPN2, 5/15). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said it wasn't a "mistake" for Sam to appear on the show "given who he is and the role model that he is" ("PTI," ESPN, 5/15). ESPN's Dan Le Batard said appearing on the show is "smart" for Sam. He added, "This isn't good for his career; (however,) it is good for his pocket in the short term" ("PTI," ESPN, 5/15).

FLEETING FOCUS? ESPN's Darren Woodson said of Sam's TV series, "If it's taking place outside of the locker room at home, it's on him. He can decide what he wants to do, but as a football player (and) especially as a young rookie you want to get rid of all the distractions. I think it's a bad idea" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 5/16). CSNBayArea.com's Andy Dolich: "I hope [Sam] hasn't hired the same nit-wit that told Donald Sterling to go on with Anderson Cooper" ("Yahoo Sports Talk Live," CSN Bay Area, 5/15). ESPN's Michael Smith: "Now is not the time to be making documentaries." Smith added the "best thing he can do for the LGBT cause is to make the team and make a contribution" ("Numbers Never Lie," ESPN2, 5/15).

NOTHING TO SEE HERE: In St. Louis, Dan Caesar writes if the turnout at Rams Park on Tuesday for Sam's introductory news conference is "any indication, Sam is one of two leading candidates to be the designated 'Story of the Summer' guy in the national sports media." But ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer Seth Markman "emphatically said Sam won’t fill that role." Markman: "We do a lot of NFL coverage in the summer, but we have to balance it and decide which team and which players to cover the most. Certainly he will be in our coverage plans, but there are a lot of big stories and a lot of players, significant rookies, and there are big teams." Still, expect to "see a lot of Sam coverage on ESPN." Markman: "When he plays games -- that is going to be significant for sure. I think it’s a story line the American public is going to want to follow, and we owe it to them to follow that story line. But were not going to be (dwelling on) Michael Sam all summer." He added that the net's Bob Holtzman "will not be the network’s designated Sam reporter, as Sal Paolantonio was" with free agent QB Tim Tebow (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/16).
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