That previously reported OWN reality series about Michael Sam is no longer happening. The project was set to follow Sam’s preseason with the St. Louis Rams as the first openly gay NFL player. But according to OWN President Erik Logan, the network has discussed the project with the St. Louis Rams—and, presumably, the NFL at large—and decided to postpone the series, “allowing Michael the best opportunity to achieve his dream of making the team.”
There are a couple of different ways to analyze this announcement. The NFL has historically been very private about letting cameras into its world and especially its locker rooms. (There’s some discrepancy as to whether the Rams knew about the proposed series prior to the draft.) Filming of a reality show could be seen as a “distraction” (a sports world buzzword) either for Sam or for the team. Business Week also speculates there’s an element of Sam “getting above his appointed place in the league pecking order” as the 249th draft pick, and nixing the show could help limit resentment in the locker room. After all, not many seventh-round picks receive a message of congratulations from the President of the United States or have the second-best selling rookie jersey.
On the other hand, OWN rightly billed Sam’s story as a historic turning point in sports history and gay rights. The show would raise Sam’s public persona and help him build a longer career after he eventually retires from football (which could be sooner rather than later, seeing as it’s not unusual for seventh-round picks to be cut from the team). It could also have helped normalize the idea of gay football players for those who were shocked that ESPN showed two men chastely kissing.
On the other, other hand, Sam has also maintained that he would like to be seen as a “football player,” not a “gay football player.” Treating him like any other seventh-round draft pick—one without a reality show—would be doing just that.
For its part, OWN maintains the show is just “postponed,” not canceled. According to Sam’s agent Cameron Weiss, “Everybody involved remains committed to this project and understands its historical importance as well as its positive message.” Sam is likely still figuring out the best way to balance his dual roles of professional football player and gay rights trailblazer. Perhaps after he solidifies his place on the team, he’ll be able to have that conversation on television.