With new Ram Michael Sam, the problem isn’t ‘The Kiss’ — it’s us in the media

There is no shortage of Michael Sam coverage in the national media.

Brian Spurlock/Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The problem isn’t him. It’s us.

The St. Louis Rams are introducing their rookies to the media Tuesday. Which means the circus, of course, that is coming to the Gateway City, and Lord help them all.

National sports outlets. Entertainment outlets. Silly outlets. Non-sports outlets. Non-straight outlets.

Because let’s be real, here: Michael Sam transcends sports.

Michael Sam drives ratings. Michael Sam drives traffic. When you transcend sports, when you drive ratings and traffic, when you’re a 261-pound African-American footballer who kisses his boyfriend multiple times on national television, you’re no longer a player.

You’re a conversation.

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And this is the challenge, really. Perhaps the biggest one on the plate for him, his public relations team, and, most important, for the Rams themselves.

When certain media outlets love you, they love you. And when they love you, they will beat America over the head with you, whether you like it or not, whether America likes it or not.

To put it another way, a good chunk of the English-speaking world was perfectly fine with Tim Tebow, say, four years ago.

Now, not so much.

And let’s be real on this, too: Sam, an openly gay man in the NFL, is a barrier crumbling before our very eyes — at least those who didn’t throw their hands over them once the smooching started.

Whatever your moral comfort is with the man’s lifestyle choices, what’s done cannot be undone, as anybody who ever bought a Ryan Leaf replica jersey understands all too well.

History is the ultimate judge of us all, and the significance of what’s unfolding here cannot be understated.

NFL CHEERLEADERS: Check out our gallery of sideline shots from around the league.

It can, however, be overstated to death.

The problem isn’t him. It’s us.

By any objective football measure, the Rams had a damn good draft, plugging college stars such as Auburn’s Greg Robinson and Tre Mason and Pitt’s Aaron Donald onto a young, gifted roster that’s fighting for air in the NFL’s toughest division.

But from a Q-rating, public relations perspective, Sam — a seventh-rounder who was taken eight picks before the end of the event — eclipses them all, before he’s played a single down.

The problem isn’t him. It’s us.

One of the unfortunate side effects of Michael Sam love is the inevitable crush of Michael Sam backlash that is almost sure to follow. The likely rage — some of it religious, some of it secular — against the fact that a short, not-especially-fast ‘tweener of a prospect is getting the kind of face time reserved for the Peyton Mannings and Adrian Petersons of the footballing universe.

Every outlet will want a piece of the former Mizzou standout, and the bigger the piece, the better. Sam’s camp knows this, of course, and, to this point, has chosen its spots fairly judiciously.

Jackie Robinson was the living embodiment of grace and steel under fire, but he never had to live with Twitter. The ticker never sleeps.

It’s not a "gay" thing. It’s not a money thing. It’s an ego thing.


Never mind when Sam’s boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, turns up at Rams Park. How are teammates in St. Louis going to react when the seventh-rounder has a bigger pack of cameras at his locker stall, jostling like koi fish for position, than the ones waiting for Sam Bradford, Robert Quinn or Chris Long?

The problem isn’t him. It’s us.

Patience will be tested, on multiple fronts. Fortunately, if anyone can deal with media chaos and off-field lunacy, it’s coach Jeff Fisher, having elevated the Oilers/Titans during that franchise’s bizarre subletting phase in Houston, Memphis and Nashville.

Still, locker rooms can be funny, cruel, politically fractured places, even without the media’s help. Sam isn’t just carrying the flag for Mizzou fans, or for gay America. He’s playing to take somebody else’s job.

"I’ve got to make sure the ‘vets’ know that I’m a team player and I love this game," Sam said during a conference call. "I want to show the coaches that I’m a team player and I’m a hard-working guy, and that what I do on the field will determine how great Michael Sam will be."

As agendas go, Sam just wants to do what he does best: Rush upfield, take down the quarterback, win tilts. Dude just wants to play.

And if you don’t believe him, well, there’s a new Visa commercial out now in which he happily explains it.

"Judge me," Sam says as dramatic music plays in the background, "for what I do on the field."

Yes, Big No. 52 is in the NFL now, a professional, a small business unto himself, another shade in a world of grays.

"You know what? I knew what I was coming into," Sam said. "If I didn’t, I mean … I can answer your questions right now. I’m not afraid to answer questions. Hey, are there going to be idiots out there who say some stupid stuff? Yeah. I’m not worried about that. I’m worrying about the guy next to me, the guy in front of me. I have to prove myself."

The problem isn’t him. It’s us.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.