Taking One for the Team
I keep saying this, but listen, I get it. I might have ragged on Michael Sam and Derrick Gordon in last week’s blog, but I completely understand how important it is for folks, especially GLBTQ youth, to see a player like Sam. I know this. We need examples. We need heroes. We need to see ourselves. But this probably wasn’t the best way for Sam and his advisors to go about it. Think about it. Sam essentially withheld the information that he had signed on to do a “docuseries,” because he didn’t want to hurt his position in the draft, and that’s understandable. But you can’t then turn around and say “Thanks for drafting me, by the way I’ll be filming a reality series while I’m here.” It just isn’t professional. Here’s the thing: The NFL is the control freak of control freaks. They don’t call it the No Fun League for nothing. There is one current NFL player (Eric Decker) with a reality show, which centers on his off-field relationship with his singer wife. Everyone else has to wait for NFL “sanctioned” cameras to get their shine. Which is to say that if Michael Sam is going to be on a reality show, he’s going to be on the NFL’s Hard Knocks. Which actually might happen, since the league hasn’t selected a team to follow yet.
In other words, the Rams were probably really salty to hear about Sam’s show, especially since Sam himself spent the time between coming out and being drafted talking about how he just wanted to focus on football and making the team. And it doesn’t really seem that you’re focusing on football if you’re running around town with a camera crew. That kind of individualistic thing just doesn’t work well in the NFL Not only does filming your life for a reality series belie previous statements, but it suggests that you’re interested in commodifiying your identity for individual, personal and/or material gain. And the NFL is not letting players commodify themselves if they’re not getting a (really big) cut. That lesson isn’t exactly true, since players can get money from endorsements and such, but I dare a layperson to name an NFL player not named Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Which is to say that most NFL players are getting their game checks, and that’s it.
Which sort of brings me to my point. For those of you who are recent fans of the Rams and perhaps football, one thing you need to know is that the average career of an NFL player is about 3 years. It’s the professional sport with the shortest shelf life. Most players are comparatively paid little, and most folks don’t know who they are. There is an incredibly high amount of turnover. It’s one of the many ways that the NFL is militaristic. There are more than 50 players on a team, and the helmets make them anonymous. They are almost interchangeable. As such, in football especially, the emphasis is on the unit, not the individual. So before we declare any homophobic impulses behind the desire to put the Michael Sam show on pause, please remember that. In reality, Michael Sam might not even make the team. I think he will, but there is a possibility that he won’t. It’s really hard to make a football team. It takes an incredible amount of dedication and focus. And even if you do make the team an injury, a better player, anything could take you out. Once you get there, you dealt the even harder task of staying.
So although some may have thirsted to get a weekly dose of Michael Sam, it’s probably best that he won’t be doing promos for OWN. That is, if his goal is to get and keep a job as a professional football player. Even though he won’t be on OWN any time soon, I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities to see Sam on ESPN, the NFL Network, etc. And perhaps Sam and his advisors should take a note from the football playbook: It’s never really about the individual’s accomplishments, Real progress can only be determined by the success of the team. And if Sam is a member of #teamGLBTQ, he’ll need more than Visa commercials and reality shows to positively impact the fate of the unit.