Does Jason Collins "Circus" Foreshadow Anything for Michael Sam?
Will the circus come to Michael Sam's front door?
By Marcus Qwertyus (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
We are smack dab in the middle of the draft season, where NFL head coaches, general managers and scouts traverse the nation to various Pro Days at colleges all over the map to a) see if what they witnessed at the Scouting Combine was real and/or b) fill in whatever blanks remain post-Combine.
There are hundreds of players, and all of them have scouting reports that are being continually formulated and tweaked, with strengths and weaknesses, pros and cons.
There will be plenty of overlap between players when it comes to positive and negative on field traits. While no two players are exactly the same, there are certainly plenty, especially deeper in the draft, that border on commodity.
However, one player forecasted for the latter portion of the draft carries one extra bullet point on his scouting sheet that no other player has, and it's probably not a good thing, and it's this -- for some teams, they believe Michael Sam's announcement that he's openly gay will bring an unwanted distraction.
That's the perception, at least.
When he made his announcement that he is gay back on February 7, Michael Sam was forecasted to be the first athlete in one of the four major sports in the United States to be openly gay as a pro, however, when Jason Collins signed a ten day contract with the Brooklyn Nets a couple weeks ago, he beat Sam to the punch.
Collins suited up for the Nets in a game against the Lakers the day that he signed, and indeed, as expected it got plenty of coverage. He played 11 minutes, and it felt like all 11 of those minutes were replayed on SportsCenter that night and the next day. National outlets flocked to the Staples Center, and Jason Collins got more coverage in one night than every other player on a ten day contract had gotten in the history of the league combined.
At that point, there was something to the "circus" argument. But then a funny thing happened.
Once everyone realized that Collins' teammates were cool with him, that he kept to himself in the showers (the mortal fear of the narrow minded, that Collins is going to "hit on them" in the shower), and that he actually had a few minutes of basketball in the tank, Jason Collins became a non-story.
It seems as though as long as the openly gay player conducts himself the same way he always has (and honestly, why wouldn't he), then the story loses its legs.
In fact, Josh Levin of slate.com wrote a piece that cited the Google analytics of the Collins coverage:
Today, on the occasion of Collins' home debut as a Brooklyn Net, it's worth measuring the scope of that media circus. I searched Lexis-Nexis for all English-language news stories with "Jason Collins" in the headline. Here are the day-by-day results since Feb. 22, the day before Collins signed with Brooklyn.
Feb. 22: 2 Feb. 23 (Collins signs with the Nets, plays against the Lakers): 57 Feb. 24 (the day after Collins' first game): 116 Feb. 25: 10 Feb. 26 (Collins' second game): 7 Feb. 27 (Collins' third game): 4 Feb. 28 (Collins meets Matthew Shepard's parents): 31 Mar. 1 (Collins' fourth game): 4 Mar. 2: 6 Mar. 3 (Collins' Brooklyn debut): 7
I won't say this indicates that "there's nothing to see here," because doing so diminishes the courage of what Collins and probably even moreso Sam have chosen to do in coming out. But those numbers do show that the acclimation (of Collins, at least) into the locker room quickly dies as compelling copy.
Will it be the same for Michael Sam? Will the circus be merely a two day show?
Honestly, probably not.
Football is a different animal. While the NBA is enjoying a period of wild popularity, the NFL enjoys a comfortable margin in terms of year round coverage and how woven it is into the fabric of our culture. Also, the NFL locker room environment is decidedly different and probably more testosterone fueled than an NBA locker room.
Then there's the specific cases of Collins' versus Sam's. Collins is an end-of-the-line, end-of-the-bench player hanging onto his NBA dream on ten day deals. Michael Sam is literally in the middle of the process that will decide his future. By nature, the process that he is part of right now -- combine, pro day, interviews -- is pure scrutiny.
In short, there will be attention, heavy attention on Michael Sam. Everything he does will be framed by the story of his sexuality until he shows, and more importantly his teammates have shown that he fits snugly into the locker room culture. He did it at Missouri, so there's no reason to believe that if he's drafted by a team with strong leadership, the same won't happen in the NFL.
The question is how quickly the media will let it happen, and how quickly until Michael Sam the gay football player becomes just Michael Sam the football player.
The clock is ticking.
Read Sean Pendergast's column in this week's print edition of the Houston Press.
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