A seat next to Oprah Winfrey on one of her TV specials usually guarantees good things for a person. Oprah is a kingmaker; she can transform a hack of an author or a C-list actor into an instant celebrity.
Perhaps the thought of what Oprah might be able to do for his floundering career drove Michael Sam, an openly gay athlete, to sit on a stage with her. He had to hope it would.
For there Sam was last Saturday, a yard or two away from the most famous Black woman in the world, praying his interview with her might do what nothing else had been able to do: earn him a spot on an NFL roster.
His interview with Oprah will not. It didn’t improve his time in the 40 or make up for his lack of bulk.
Instead, it raised concerns about Sam, who came across as a pathetic character. He whined to Oprah about how his homosexuality had cost him a roster spot. He tried to make her audience believe he was good enough for the NFL.
He failed there, too.
Sam, a rookie defensive lineman in waiting, could have been a genuine hero, someone who stood up to homophobic thinking in sports and who insisted his homosexuality wasn’t going to decide his worth.
He did have a noble, heartbreaking backstory, which recounted his life with dignity and pride, unashamed to tackle sexual orientation. But his backstory overtook his present story.
That story has turned those who had been aligned with Sam’s quest for an NFL career into critics. They aren’t asking for Sam’s silence; they are asking him to focus more on improving his skills and less on his public campaign that has become a sideshow.
At the circus, sideshows make people laugh, and Michael Sam is giving people plenty to laugh about. They are finding it increasingly funny that he’s building his football career on a stage, not in the workout room.
If homophobia is why people are laughing, their reaction is a reflection on those people and not on Sam. But if it is his whining, then laughter is appropriate.
They know the NFL isn’t looking for political statements, which Sam seems most interested in making. The league is looking for football players; it has no interest in putting a politician on a team’s roster.
“I did everything I was supposed to do,” he told Oprah. “I did everything right. I am proud of how I handled things.”
Everything? Sam can play politics if he prefers to, but he needs to hire a better campaign manager. Whoever has been advising him isn’t offering the man the best wisdom.
For even circus clowns could have told Michael Sam that sitting down with Oprah might draw rating points but won’t make him attractive to NFL teams. They want an athlete who talks less and practices more, and teams tend to cut athletes who do more of the former and a whole lot less of the latter.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images for GQ)
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