After it found itself at the epicenter of a storm of criticism over a report on the shower habits of Michael Sam, the first openly gay player on an NFL roster, and his teammates, ESPN responded Wednesday morning with a further statement on the report.
“ESPN regrets the manner in which we presented our report. Clearly yesterday we collectively failed to meet the standards we have set in reporting on LGBT-related topics in sports.”…
In its initial response to the firestorm, ESPN reponded Tuesday: “In response to recent questions about Sam fitting in with the team, multiple Rams brought up the shower topic and we relayed that information as part of our reporting.” Clearly, it felt it was necessary to walk that back Wednesday.
Watch the report. From the term “shower habits,” you would think one of the anchors had asked, with a smirk, “So, has Sam dropped the soap yet?” But the exchange is low key and matter of fact. The anchor wants to know, go figure, how the NFL’s first openly gay player is fitting in. Remember him? The guy whose coming out last year was international news and inspired maybe eight thousand stories asking, “How well will Sam fit in?” Here’s ESPN following up, and here’s their correspondent with an update: He seems to be fitting in fine, although one Rams player thinks he might be delaying his own showers after practice so as not to make some teammates uncomfortable. However you want to slice that, it’s news. If Sam really is waiting to shower, it shows that he senses there might still be some awkwardness in the locker room and wants to introduce himself to the team gradually. If he isn’t, it shows there’s already some misunderstanding of his behavior because of his orientation. This can’t be an historic, trailblazing, as-yet-untested social experiment worth celebrating by the media six months ago and a nothing-to-see-here story about just another rookie now.
And listen: As much as the chattering class may feel that any focus on Sam’s behavior in the shower room is prurient and a minor footnote to his overall integration with the team, I promise there are lots and lots of ESPN viewers whose very first thought when they consider an openly gay NFL player is how the other guys will feel being around him naked. Like it or not, that’s how it is. The irony of ESPN taking heat for this clip is that those viewers are probably more likely to accept Sam after watching it, not less. The upshot, whichever Rams source you choose to believe, is that the shower room hasn’t been an issue so far. Sam’s focused on football and on making his team as comfortable as possible, which is commendable. But then, it’s nothing new for identity politics to toggle between “we’re different and you should accept our differences” and “we’re the same and you should ignore any differences, which are trivial.” Six months ago we were in the first mode and now, with Sam’s integration top priority for the media, we’re in the second.
He made the first roster cut in the preseason, by the way.