Michael Sam, Oprah Winfrey partnership is ‘distraction,’ Tony Dungy says


The Rams had hoped that Michael Sam’s media moments would be limited. (Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images)

The partnership between Michael Sam and the Oprah Winfrey Network on a multi-part documentary chronicling his journey to the NFL isn’t going over so well.

Never mind that Sam, the first openly gay player taken in the NFL draft, is no lock to make the St. Louis Rams as a seventh-round pick, eighth-from-last in the draft. Sam did not share his plans with the Rams, who introduced him at a press conference Monday and pledged that he would not be a distraction. That is exactly what he will become, according to Tony Dungy.

“As a coach, you’re always hoping you don’t have that kind of thing,” he told ESPN. “You want to stay focused on the task at hand, which is developing your football team and helping your players be the best they can be. You always want to limit the outside distractions. I was not a big fan of the ‘Hard Knocks’ series or anything that brought extra attention to the team because I thought it was a distraction and I think this will be for the Rams, as well.”

Sam had, ESPN’s Ed Werder reported, kept the OWN agreement under wraps so that his draft stock would not be affected. Some of his new teammates were critical of the series, off the record, of course.

“It’s an interesting case that he gets to work with Oprah and have his own show, but I think it does raise eyebrows and it may be somewhat of a distraction,” an unnamed Rams player told ESPN.com’s Josina Anderson. “But this is our first time dealing with something like this, so we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out and how people react.” Another unnamed player told the Rams Radio Network that he thought a one-episode show would have been fine.

Sam’s agent, Cameron Weiss, said that filming would not affect the Rams. “OWN’s cameras would never be able to go to the Rams’ facility to be inside the locker room, to get on the field, because nobody has those rights besides the NFL.” Weiss was asked if the filmmakers had approached team officials to shoot at the Rams facility and said, “It wasn’t asked at all. We wouldn’t put the Rams in that position.”

Still, the decision is at odds with Sam’s stated desire to focus on making the team and being just another football player. The documentary announcement rankled ESPN’s Jason Whitlock.

It all feels orchestrated now: 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 selling onmichaelsam.com.

Who knew a reality TV show was being filmed? Who knew Sam’s agents (Cameron Weiss and Joe Barkett) and publicist (Howard Bragman) had cut deals to be producers on the reality TV show?

This is all scripted and amateur. And devious, too.

Whitlock may have taken it a couple of steps too far, but Dungy has a point. And what happens if Sam can’t make the team?

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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