Unfair overcoverage of Michael Sam and other athletes; how would Jackie Robinson have done today?–the Monday Morning Realist


Every Monday morning, Section 215’s Akiem Bailum gives an in-depth and unfiltered look at all of the latest sports news in The Monday Morning Realist. You can follow Akiem on Twitter @AkiemBailum.

Aug 28, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam (96) looks on prior to a game against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn’t get talked about often, other than on the internet, but the press may be (at least close to) the Holy Grail of everything wrong with sports.

Realists, we may have witnessed another example of that this weekend. NFL teams cut their rosters down to 53 in time for the upcoming season. All eyes were on St. Louis and Michael Sam, who had been able to survive initial rounds of cuts.

Everyone was looking forward to if Sam, the first openly gay player in the league, would indeed survive the final round of cuts and make the Rams’ final roster.

He was unsuccessful as he was indeed cut by St. Louis. Head Coach Jeff Fisher described it as a football decision. Sam tweeted out his thanks to St. Louis for giving him a shot and said that “the journey continues”.

Sam himself mentioned that he himself did not want to be evaluated or even looked at on the basis of his sexuality, but rather on if he can play. Considering that he was a co-Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC (essentially the NFL’s minor leagues), there’s no doubt he is deserving to play on Sundays. Sam is ready for primetime.

But, that journey that he mentioned in his tweets did not come without a few bumps in the road. Those did not come from a sporting populace of fans who see through the NFL faux macho-man shield for what it is.
Bristol (& other media outlets, we’re looking at you once again).

Remember when Tony Dungy of NBC explicitly said that he would not draft Michael Sam on the basis of him being openly gay? No fans brought this up, and Realists, we’re sure that not many St. Louis Rams fans brought this up even though the St. Louis metro is not exactly San Francisco, Washington, D.C., New York City, or Seattle.

Dungy exposed himself because he glossed over the idea (that with 99.9% certainty) that he was coaching gay players while at the helm for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts. Maybe those players were not openly gay, but there were gay players on those teams as there are currently on every NFL team.

That was merely the tip of the iceberg with the Sam talk, but ESPN basically did to Michael Sam what it has done with other football players in the past.

After Tim Tebow entered the league as a winner of two national championships with the Florida Gators (he was the starting quarterback only for one of them, by the way—Chris Leak won the first), ESPN went into full “Tebow Time” mode.

Never mind that Tebow never was really able to translate himself into an NFL QB, to Bristol, Tebow was the best thing since nightclubs in South Beach.

Not only that, but Tebow had (and still has) a hardcore fanbase of evangelical Christians behind him every step of the way (not just in the Florida panhandle which is loaded with them, but around the country).

ESPN gave Tebow too much coverage—it ruined his career.

Look at what is going on with Johnny Manziel. We have not seen Johnny Football play a down in professional football that means everything, and yet, ESPN is covering his every single move like NBC does President Obama.

From his partying exploits, to the double middle finger in the preseason game against Washington, to the possible two-quarterback system Cleveland could deploy with him and Brian Hoyer. It’s been “All Manziel, All the Time” at the four-letter network.

Meanwhile, there are a litany of players throughout the NFL that are much more worthy of coverage than Tebow was or Manziel is. Exhibit A is right in Philadelphia—Nick Foles. Also, remember that Tom Brady was a sixth round Draft pick out of Michigan and was initially seen as a bust before he threw his first pass for the New England Patriots.

ESPN tries to predict the Draft before seeing the results of the Draft.

The Manziel experiment looks like a carbon copy of the Tebow experiment. And the Sam experiment mirrors both.

Some NFL team will eventually pick up Michael Sam, he will make a roster, and he will have a chance to play. Only question is when will that opportunity occur. If he doesn’t, then it ought to be seen as another example of the league blacklisting someone “different” from its status-quo of adhering to a “macho-man” lifestyle on and off the field (i.e. Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey, and Ray Rice).

Realists, it’s a safe bet to say that Sam may not have asked for this over-coverage regarding his sexuality. Even when ESPN showed Sam kissing his boyfriend after the Rams drafted him in the seventh round can be seen as an example of them overdoing it. Not to mention when Oprah Winfrey’s Network wanted to do a reality show on Sam’s journey into the league.

Another media hypocrisy—they branded the proposed OWN show as invasive, yet not say anything about HBO’s Hard Knocks.

With all of the press coverage out there, one has to wonder how Jackie Robinson would have done today.

Robinson is seen as a hero today as he should be. After all, he broke baseball’s color barrier as well as a social color barrier. Many of the strides African Americans made in the 20th century throughout the course of the Civil Rights Movement started with #42.

What if there were all of these media outlets in the 1940s the way there are now. Would he have been able to still go on to do the great things that he did? Would he, Branch Rickey, Roy Campanella, and the rest of the Brooklyn Dodgers organization have been able to withstand such intense media scrutiny?

On no way is what Michael Sam trying to do even close to what Jackie Robinson had to endure in the 1940s and 1950s. Robinson was up against racist fans throughout MLB ballparks, a racist sport that had yet to integrate, teammates who wanted nothing to do with him, racist umpires who deliberately called strikes against him when they should have been balls, and was the subject of death threats nearly daily.

Sam has not had to endure any of that. Most of his struggles have purely been because of a sports media that milks stories for ratings and so advertisers will have more eyeballs. And the sporting populace is much more supportive of Sam in 2014 than it was of Jackie Robinson in 1947.

But, could one imagine if there was all of this media around in the 1940s and 1950s and the Dodgers PR department had to constantly field interview requests from the national and New York sports media?

Robinson was attempting to break baseball’s color barrier when the media was only in development—we could only imagine what would have happened if (on top of everything else) he had to deal with New York, Los Angeles, Secaucus, and Bristol.