ESPN, the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports,” aired a report Tuesday morning focusing on St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team — but the brief segment soon took a bizarre turn to the subject of Sam’s showering habits.
Reporter Josina Anderson appeared fascinated with the subject of whether Sam showered with his teammates, finding at least one who said, anonymously, that Sam appears to be “respecting our space,” and that the rookie — currently locked in a battle to make the Rams opening game 53-man roster — “is kind of waiting to take a shower, as not to make his teammates feel uncomfortable.”
But one of Sam’s veteran teammates and fellow defensive end, Chris Long, responded to the ESPN report with a simple, but pointed, Twitter posting.
Dear ESPN, Everyone but you is over it.
— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) August 26, 2014
Nonetheless, the ESPN reporter quizzed other Rams on how and when Michael Sam takes a shower, but few who spoke on the record seemed interested in the issue.
Defensive tackle Kendall Langford and linebacker Alec Ogletree both told Anderson that they have not been keeping track of Sam’s showering habits.
Langford told Anderson that he had not yet taken a shower at the same time as Michael Sam, but the timing was not by design.
“He said there definitely could be a million reasons as to why that is,” Anderson reported. “He said he could be doing extra work on the practice field, he could be riding his bike, he could be doing extra cardio.”
Another player told Anderson that Sam was “simply just one of the guys, and he seems to be taking a rookie approach in terms of just listening and learning at his own pace.”
The ESPN report was immediately blasted, not only by Long in his tweet, but on other social media and by leading sports blogs.
“People are going to be furious with ESPN and Anderson over this report,” wrote the sports-media criticism blog Awful Announcing. “You don’t see any other athlete in professional sports face scrutiny and publicity over when they choose to take a shower. Sam’s never going to be ‘just a football player’ if he faces reporting like this.”
But ESPN defended the story, with the network saying it did not “sensationalize” its reporting on Michael Sam’s showering practices.
“It was the last part of a news segment — not the headline or lead item in the report,” an ESPN source told the political site Talking Points Memo. “The player who answered our reporter’s question directly brought it up on his own — she asked how Michael Sam is fitting in. She did not ask a shower question.”
A seventh-round draft pick, Sam has not been considered a certainty to make the Rams final squad, which will be decided within the next week, prior to the Rams’ opening game September 7 against the Minnesota Vikings.