Yesterday, TMZ took a break from broadcasting stolen security camera footage to announce that Michael Sam had inked a deal for a reality based TV series on OWN. The Twitterverse and the Blogosphere and the World Wide Web and Cyberspace, and presumably at least several other electronic ecosystems, lit up in response, with reactions ranging from jubilant to disappointed, as happens every time any stimulus is introduced into these highly volatile environs. Our friend, Drew Magary, weighed in with his own opinion that the news "suck[ed]" because, in Drew's view, it ipso facto converts Sam from a civil rights hero into a pre-programmed PR robot, apparently via some transitive property of Oprahfication.
Drew's wrong, it doesn't suck, it's actually terrific news. But at least Drew is wrong for a good reason. Drew clearly wants Michael Sam to be an important role model who is taken seriously, and sees the Opralliance as potentially undermining that. Frankly, I don't see even a shred of evidence to support Drew's unfounded fear. Anyone who demonstrates the strength, poise and courage Sam has after knowingly thrusting him- or her-self into the middle of a national maelstrom at least deserves the benefit of the doubt before we start comparing them to Lindsay Lohan. I have every reason to believe that Sam will continue to display the same authenticity he has since he made his courageous announcement months ago.
Other dissenters were not as well-intentioned as Drew, however. Like, for example, Stephen Espinoza, the Showtime executive who lured Floyd Mayweather from rival HBO with nothing more than his tireless gumption, negotiating guile, and a quarter billion dollars of other people's poorly-invested money. Here's Espinoza's reaction to the news:
That's right. Stephen Espinoza, the man who invested $250,000,000.00 in an aging fighter with a lengthy rap sheet, thinks Michael Sam is "jumping the shark." Let's start with the fact that Espinoza, a TV executive, apparently does not understand the expression jumping the shark. Jumping the shark is what happens when a TV show tries to introduce some gimmick to add life to a tired plot line. It's hard to see how that applies in Sam's case. I think the word Espinoza was looking for was "overexposed."
But if that's the case, Espinoza has some nerve. This is a guy who thinks following Floyd Mayweather around with a camera crew 24/7 makes for compelling TV. Of course, Espinoza can't use the expression "24/7" because that was the name of the old HBO show that also followed Floyd Mayweather around with a camera crew, so he instead opted for the equally descriptive, All Access, which speaks to Espinoza's obviously-delicate sensitivities about overexposed athletes.
If any athlete is overexposed today, it's Floyd Mayweather. Thanks to the HBO and Showtime reality shows, we've now spent the past six years being bombarded with images from Mayweather's dysfunctional life: from ugly shouting matches with his occasionally estranged father to going clubbing with his currently-estranged former BFF, 50 Cent. It's actually gotten so dull that America has more or less tuned out: two of Mayweather's three fights on Showtime are reported to have been money losers for the network. It's gotten to the point where Floyd had to jump the shark to try to scare up interest in his last fight; which he accomplished in typically classy fashion by releasing the sonogram of twins he claims his former fiancee aborted (she's now romantically linked with rapper Nelly, last seen performing before a Manny Pacquiao fight, if you're scoring this at home).
Let's run through this one more time. Stephen Espinoza thinks that Floyd Mayweather, who has been under a microscope for more time than, say, polio, makes for the most exciting reality television in sports but Michael Sam's as-yet unfilmed series is jumping the shark. Okay.
You don't have to watch Michael Sam's show if you don't want to. But I will. I'll tune in because I've been impressed by his courage, his humility, and his humanity through this exhausting process. I'll tune in because I want to see how he responds to the next batch of challenges life throws at him, on and off the field. I'll tune in because it might help me undo stereotypes I still lug around, deep in my subconscious. But, most importantly, I'll tune in because Michael Sam isn't Floyd Mayweather.