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 …


  1. "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."

    But, that's not the answer she got. She got an anonymous quote from a teammate of Sam's saying that he thought Sam was staying out of the showers while others were in there in order to avoid causing any concern. An anonymous quote with no verification of its accuracy. That's what the problem was with her report.

  2. An anonymous source doesn't automatically disqualify the report. I have used anonymous sources as well. If the reporter acted inappropriately, I wouldn't support that. But the initial uproar was over asking about the shower issue. That is what I am addressing in my column.

    1. but, you state here that the answer she got was that the shower was not an issue. That is clearly NOT the answer she got. She got a quote that Sam was staying out of the showers. The anonymity of the quote wouldn't be an issue if she had made any effort at all to corroborate it for accuracy before including it in her report. She didn't. But, being anonymous along with uncorroborated is nothing more than reporting hearsay.

  3. Thanks for writing, Viv, but to be sure: the firestorm against Josina was because her story peeled back the feel-good positive-only narrative (ie, the only narrative allowed re: Sam). And that is what's truly verboten. Is not that she asked the wrong question, it's that she got the wrong answer. A bit of uncomfortable reality.

    1. Wrong. She initiated a homophobic report. If Sam had been previously accused of beating the hell out of another person in the shower, that question MIGHT be relevant. She treated him like a potential sex-starved rapist..... or like a LOT of straight people seem to think that we ALL have nothing better to do with our time besides lust and unbridled sexual gratification. Sam was treated like he was following the guys in the locker room like a cock-hound waiting for the next penis to walk in. There was NO basis for the question. His showering had NOT been made an issue until this and it was ONLY an issue because he is gay. PERIOD.