Less than a week into being a Ram and Sam is sending mixed messages
MAY 16, 2014 4:20p ET
ST. LOUIS -- The cameras were back at Rams Park on Friday morning as Michael Sam and the rest of the Rams' rookie class took the practice field for the first time with the media being able to watch and observe.
See Sam stretch.
See Sam run.
See Sam run some more.
Yes, it really was as thrilling as it sounds. You should've been there. It surely would make for some compelling content on the Michael Sam docu-series that was announced this week by the Oprah Winfrey Network.
That is, until the network shelved the plan a day later.
If Sam isn't careful, he'll be appearing in "The Unemployed Football Player" before long. Because he's not off to a very good start, less than one week into his NFL career.
Sam, 24, sat at a press conference Tuesday afternoon and told everyone, including the national TV networks broadcasting his every word, his attention was on football.
"My job is to focus on football and making this team so we can help win championships," Sam said when asked if he will be an advocate for gay marriage.
Then on Wednesday, Oprah Winfrey's OWN cable network -- yes, the same one that produced Lindsay Lohan's show "Lindsay" -- announced it was creating a series around Sam, the first openly gay football player to be drafted into the NFL.
Sam's agent, Cameron Weiss, backed the network's decision to shelve the series, saying it would "allow for Michael to have a total focus on football, and will ensure no distractions to his teammates." However, he added, "Everybody involved remains committed to this project and understands its historical importance as well as its positive message."
The disconnect in that raises some questions about Sam, including what his focus really is.
So which one is it, Michael?
Playing football? Or becoming a reality star?
Sam's story, and everything he's overcome to get to this point, would be captivating even if he wasn't gay. He's beaten long odds to make it to the NFL out of Hitchcock, Texas, the seventh of eight children, the two-star recruit turned All-American.
The Rams are giving the seventh-round pick every opportunity to win a roster spot.
They even announced this week that they have moved backup defensive end Mason Brodine to tight end. Sam's No. 96 -- the one that is flying off the virtual shelves on the Rams' website -- had belonged to Brodine. While it's not a significant move for St. Louis, it is one less player Sam has to compete with to make one of five defensive end spots on the regular-season roster, if the team even keeps that many.
As Sam himself said Saturday night in his conference call with reporters after the draft, the Rams were the only team that had the (guts) to draft him.
The Rams didn't know about the Oprah docu-series before drafting him. Apparently, the NFL knew but didn't tell any of its teams. Had that little detail been clear, who knows whether the Rams would have used one of their seventh-round picks on Sam? It's not like teams are lining up to star in the next "Hard Knocks" series. Sam nearly went undrafted anyway, despite being co-Defensive Player of the Year in the best college football conference in the land.
The Rams are doing everything they can to shield Sam from an onslaught of unrelenting media and let him be as normal as any other rookie on the roster. But by initially agreeing to the documentary/reality show, Sam wasn't doing himself any favors in his attempt to make the team.
It's not logical to think that none of his new teammates will have a problem with Sam. There were rumblings that some of his Missouri teammates didn't agree with it. You're talking about large groups of men who come from different backgrounds, each with his own set of beliefs.
You'd be kidding yourself if you think everyone is supportive.
But that doesn't mean they won't accept Sam as one of them -- as long as he does everything he can to try to make the team better on the field.
Veteran middle linebacker James Laurinaitis met with the media in February, after Gregg Williams was introduced as the team's new defensive coordinator. It was not long after Sam announced publicly that he is gay, and the linebacker was asked about him.
"The thing about the whole Michael Sam thing to me is he's going to be evaluated by what he does between the lines," Laurinaitis said then. "There's 53 guys on a football team from many different cultural backgrounds, different political views, a lot of different views on a lot of things. When you bring your lunch pail and you go to work and you're grinding and you're working hard in practice and you're going through workouts with them, you develop a bond and a love for your teammates.
"There's some guys in this locker room that I don't see eye to eye on a lot of things with, but when it comes to playing football I know they have my back and I have theirs, and if we're together we have a certain love for each other that's just hard to describe. It's going to be no different for Michael. If he shows up and goes to work and works hard and proves himself, if he's a St. Louis Ram and he comes to work and proves himself through camp and OTAs and all that, then I'll have his back. It's 'Can you help us win football games?'"
Sam said all the right things Tuesday.
That he is determined to be great, that he wants to work hard and try to make the team. That he is focused on playing football and not all the other stuff surrounding him.
But now we're left to wonder what he's really focused on. Maybe that's not fair to him, but unfortunately, that's where we are at.
So what's it going to be, Michael?
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.