Oprah's Network Drops Plans for Michael Sam Reality Show

Saturday, 17 May 2014 04:08 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The Oprah Winfrey Network is backing out of its plans to follow Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL player with a camera through his rookie training camp with the St. Louis Rams.

OWN President Erik Logan said after consideration and discussion with Sam and the Rams, the show has been postponed to allow Sam "the best opportunity to achieve his dreams of making the team," reports NPR.

Calling off the series will "allow for Michael to have total focus on football, and will ensure no distractions to his teammates," said Sam's agent, Cameron Weiss.

Weiss said earlier this week that the NFL and the Rams did not know about OWN's plans for a documentary when Dam was drafted. However, Michael Florio of NBC Sports reported that the team was unconcerned about the plans, and intended to "cooperate with Sam in a way that will make the entire situation — including reality show — work out for everyone."

But ESPN reported that teammates were not comfortable with the idea, with one player saying that the show would make Sam appear to be seeking celebrity while trying to make the roster, causing friction among other rookies.

ESPN sports commentator Jason Whitlock, who admits to being a "reformed homophobe," said the series would have been a "tactical error."

"America, for the most part, would wrap its arms around Michael Sam, the gay, underdog football player fighting to find his place in the NFL," wrote Whitlock.  "America, for the most part, will reject Michael '$am,' the gay, in-your-face political/media pawn using the NFL as a platform to launch his celebrity brand."

The reality show makes the entire draft day activities seem "orchestrated" said Whitlock, including the draft-day kiss; the cake-covered face; the tears; the celebration that conveniently captured just Sam, his boyfriend and his two agents; and even the "Stand with Sam" T-shirts."

Meanwhile, ESPN does not expect to give Sam an unusual amount of coverage this summer, reports The St. Louis Post DIspatch.

"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," Seth Markman, who oversees ESPN’s NFL studio shows, told The Post-Dispatch.

Sam will get coverage, said Markman, "but there are a lot of big stories and a lot of players, significant rookies, and there are big teams.”

But if Sam makes it onto the Rams roster, Markman said the rookie will get airtime.

“When he plays games — that is going to be significant for sure,’’ Markman said. “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. A much higher percentage of the general population is intrigued by the story and wants to see how he does."

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