Eyeballs, Page Hits, and the Struggle with Covering Michael Sam
Michael Sam's day at the combine finally came this weekend, and predictably it was covered ad nauseam.
Photo by Marcus Qwertyus Making football sense with Sam coverage.
The media horde surrounding the podium when it came time for Michael Sam to speak was reportedly the largest of anybody all weekend, no small feat when you consider that Johnny Manziel is part of the same draft class as Sam.
The sheer volume of those covering Sam's story is understandable given that he is about to be the first openly gay NFL player. Whether you agree or disagree with his lifestyle or the importance it carries, this is a huge story.
Still, when the coverage of Sam crosses over from a provocative look at the human side of being openly gay in a very non-gay workplace to flooding us with coverage of Sam's actual workouts as if his actual on field play calls for it -- again, he's forecasted to be a third day pick, keep this in mind -- it's just really awkward and insulting to a sensible person's intelligence.
Let me give you an example.
On the NFL Network's coverage of the combine this past week, there were a handful of the talking heads discussing a number of rapid fire topics. Down the left hand side of the television screen was a graphic listing the upcoming topics for discussion, and one of the topics was as follows: "MORE TO PROVE: MANZIEL OR SAM?"
Ok, think about that for a second.
Michael Sam announced that he is gay two weeks ago, on Feb. 9. If on February 8, before we all knew Sam was gay, the NFL Network (or First Take or PTI or any debate style show) had a topic asking which player had more to prove at the combine, Johnny Manziel or Michael Sam, most of you would have been like "Why are you posing this question? It makes no sense." (That is, if you're answer wasn't "Who the hell is Michael Sam?" which for many of you would have been what you said, admit it.)
Manziel and Sam play different positions and are forecasted in completely different strata of the draft, Manziel being discussed as the first pick overall and Sam being discussed as a fourth to sixth round pick. One is the future face of a franchise, one is a coin flipper to be on a team in three years.
What relevance could the comparative convincing that each needs to do at the combine have on any level?
The answer? None.
But Michael Sam is gay, and Johnny Manziel is Johnny Manziel, so let's put both of them in a contrived debate bullet point that will make no sense, because, hey...MICHAEL SAM!
Just tossing Michael Sam into nonsensical football arguments because he is gay is the height of lazy, and sadly an indicator of the eyeball/page click-driven world in which we are covering people and events these days.
Follow me on this -- if we can all agree that a Manziel/Sam debate would never take place before Sam's announcement that he is gay, then the variable which has apparently made it a debate topic is Sam's announcement that he is gay.
Therefore, part of what Sam apparently must prove at the combine must have to do with aspects of his game affected by his gayness, otherwise why is his need to prove anything now a debate point?
As best I can tell, the primary thing teams seem to be most concerned about with Sam's being gay is not how it effects his ability to tackle or rush the passer. No one's opinions have fluctuated on his ability to do those things since Feb. 7. No, Sam's being gay is primarily a concern because a few players would be uncomfortable showering with him.
So unless the league is going to have a special bathroom at the combine roped off so that Sam can shower with four randomly chosen heterosexual players to prove that he can keep his hands off of them, Michael Sam has nothing new to prove than he did on Feb. 6 (when, again, bringing him up as a topic on a debate show would have been greeted with "huh?")
This is my long way of saying, fellow media members, cover Michael Sam. Cover the courage he's showing, cover the hardship of his personal story growing up, cover the trail that he's blazing, a trail which may indirectly have helped get Jason Collins a job this weekend in the NBA.
Hell, even cover the debate over his football skills. Just know that when the context of how you discuss him as a football player bleeds into mind numbing blather that makes zero football sense, we can tell.
When you toss Michael Sam into arguments, debates and comparisons with top five picks in the draft, we see you working.