Oprah’s OWN will produce Michael Sam docuseries


St. Louis Rams draft pick Michael Sam. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Normally, when a television show follows a football player through training camp, it’s “Hard Knocks,” the reality show produced by NFL Films and HBO that offers an inside look at a team as it prepares for the coming season. And even then, the show doesn’t focus on one player, but the entire team, from the rookies to the veterans, the head coach to the assistants.

Well, move over, “Hard Knocks,” because Oprah Winfrey’s coming to town.

Winfrey’s OWN network will produce a documentary series that follows Michael Sam through training camp as he attempts to make the St. Louis Rams’ 53-man roster. Sam, the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, recently became the first openly gay athlete drafted by the NFL when he was selected as the 249th pick by the Rams. The show is expected to document the trials of Sam’s new job — and the media attention expected to come with breaking the “pink ceiling.”

“We are honored that Michael is trusting us with his private journey in this moment that has not only made history but will shape it forever,” Winfrey said in a statement released by OWN. “I am proud of the focus on authentic storytelling in our new documentary series format. The next real-life story we follow in ‘The Untitled Michael Sam Project’ promises to spark valuable, important discussion on life in America today. Acceptance and illumination start here.”

Already, Sam has faced some backlash because of his sexual orientation. When Sam learned that he’d been drafted, he kissed his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, in a widely-seen video. Don Jones, a defensive back for the Miami Dolphins, tweeted “horrible” and “OMG” in response and was fined by the team.

Christian lobbyist Jack Burkman said in February that he and religious leaders in 27 states would lead a boycott against any team that signed Sam and any company that endorsed him.

So far, Sam has an endorsement deal with Visa. Said the Independent:

As part of the protest, Rams fans will be told to stop buying the team’s merchandise and not to attend games, while members of the public will be asked stop using their Visa cards, and to sell any of the company’s stocks they may own.

“Visa and the Rams will learn that when you trample the Christian community and Christian values, there will be a terrible financial price to pay,” Burkman told the Independent. “Openly gay football players send a terrible message to our youth about morality. Somebody needs to step up because the moral fiber of the nation is eroding.”

The Independent reports that Burkman, through his firm JM Burkman & Associates, is also trying to advance a bill that would ban openly gay players in professional sports. It’s unlikely he will succeed.

The boycott doesn’t seem to be much of a success, either. Outsports reported that Michael Sam jerseys were the second most-popular selling rookie jerseys after Johnny Manziel’s.

“This is unprecedented for a Day 3 pick, let alone a seventh round pick, to crack the top five rookies sold following Draft weekend,” NFL spokeswoman Joanna Hunter told Outsports.

Whatever comes, Sam has said that he’s ready to share his story and he’s ready to play football.

“Like every player out there working to make a team right now, my focus is on playing football to the very best of my ability,” Sam said in the release. “I am determined. And if seeing my story helps somebody else accept who they are and to go for their dreams too, that’s great. I am thankful to Oprah for her support and excited to work together.”

Check out Sam’s first commercial:

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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Soraya Nadia McDonald · May 15, 2014