Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Michael Sam, the media and that shower question

A reporter I respect immensely called the ESPN story on Michael Sam’s shower habits as “nothing more serious than the death of journalism as we know it.”

I hope somebody can explain that to me, because I’m not sure I understand the kerfuffle that has erupted over Tuesday's report from the St. Louis Rams training camp.

Here’s what I know: For years, the fear of a gay athlete in the locker room and shower has been at the center of arguments against acceptance of a gay teammate. It is such an important issue that out former football player and executive director of the You Can Play Project Wade Davis addresses it directly when he meets with teams.

And it’s enough of a question that the noted gay sports website ran a full column from a gay former football player explaining why straight athletes need not be concerned about gay teammates in the shower. That ran in February.

So now we finally have the arrival of Michael Sam, who is hoping to make the St. Louis Rams roster this season and become the first openly gay player in the NFL. The team has been in training camp for about a month, long enough for both Sam and his straight teammates to get comfortable around each other.

Isn’t it appropriate for a reporter to ask how it’s going? Isn’t it worth reporting that the fear surrounding the shower issue for so many years turned out to be completely unfounded? Isn’t it a good idea to let people know it’s a non-issue in the Rams training camp as several players indicated in that ESPN report?

Are we suddenly so evolved on this issue that has roiled sports for so long that it is now verboten to even ask about it? 

If the reporter hadn’t asked the question, then Rams teammate Chris Long never would have tweeted this:

And from now on, that single tweet is going to be referenced every time the issue of professionalism in the locker room comes up.

Here’s why I think that’s important: There are no doubt other gay football players who are watching and waiting to see how Sam is treated by his teammates, organization, fans and the league. If teammates come out in support of Sam, that sends a powerful message to those closeted athletes that they might be supported, too. And perhaps it is a step forward for those who would like to come out as well.

Shouting down the reporter for asking the question inhibits conversation rather than fosters it. And we need to keep talking about these issues. Because this isn’t over. Sam’s arrival is a beginning, not an ending. The more Chris Long’s who come forward to tell their teammates it’s not an issue, the more welcoming the locker room will be for gay athletes. And the sooner we will be done with this as an issue once and for all.

But we're not there yet. We're not even close.

When ESPN reporter Josina Anderson asked the question, she got the answer that every gay or straight person who cares about acceptance should have been thrilled to finally hear: The shower is not an issue.

So thanks for asking …