ST. LOUIS (CBS St. Louis) – ESPN has come under fire from Michael Sam’s teammates, coaches and fans after they reported on the St. Louis Rams rookie’s showering habits.
ESPN reporter Josina Anderson said on SportsCenter Tuesday that Sam “is waiting to kind of take a shower, as not to make his teammates feel uncomfortable.” In the same report, she also noted that two of his teammates hadn’t noticed if that were true or not. Her coverage of Sam angered not only several of his teammates who expressed their frustration with ESPN on social media, but also the Rams’ head coach Jeff Fisher.
Fisher told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that he was “extremely disappointed in her piece. I think it’s unethical. I think it’s very, very unprofessional. Not only the piece itself, the content. The manner in which [Josina Anderson] did it.”
Cyd Zeigler, the co-founder of Outsports.com, told CBS St. Louis that ESPN’s coverage of Sam, who is the first openly gay NFL player, “helps to reinforce stereotypes that gay men are to be feared in the locker room.”
“I’m just one opinion of many, but every single person I have seen talk about this has said that it was not a good move by ESPN,” Zeigler said. “They are not reporting on the shower habits of anyone else. There are a lot of men and women who avoid the showers in sports, whether they are in the pros or are in high school or college. I’ve never seen a report on an NFL player concerning his shower habits. They singled him out because he’s gay and only because he’s gay.”
Zeigler, who is a sports expert, added that it was wrong of ESPN to take a “football moment” and focus it on Sam in that way.
“When I went to the Rams first preseason game, everyone talked about football and whether he was good enough to make the team and he performed on the field,” Zeigler said. “The day the report was aired came like an hour before the team cut deadline. For her and ESPN to take a very football moment and take it and focus it on Sam’s shower habits is wrong. It should have been about his performance and focused on if he would have made the team or not. The story should not have been about his showering habits.”
Former NFL player Wade Davis explained that ESPN was “less thoughtful in the way” they reported on Sam.
“I’m not a fan of right or wrong, but they were less thoughtful in the way it was reported on,” Davis told CBS St. Louis. “It’s a question that really takes the focus off of whether he’s doing a good job on making the team, and takes focus off him as a person. It creates him into an object.”
Davis, who came out after his playing career, said that ESPN’s report was demeaning towards the rookie.
“It was nothing about him as a person, or about him and how he’s doing on the team,” Davis said. “There are so many things that all human beings bring to the table. It’s demeaning to Michael Sam and his teammates who have embraced him like their brother. Each time I’ve gone there to visit St. Louis, the Rams are really a brotherhood and family. ESPN’s report was a violation to the family structure especially to think that the only thing he has to bring is his sexual orientation to the table and that’s not right.”
During his time in the NFL, Davis played for the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Redskins. He explained that ESPN could have handled the situation very differently.
“A proper question should have been how are you as an NFL player adjusting to playing with an openly gay player in the NFL?” he stated. “That is a very spacious question, an open question that is not trying to capture the gotcha moment. The NFL teams want to be open to the media and transparent. When you try to create something out of nothing, then they push the media away. It did feel like there was the ‘trying to find something that wasn’t there to make a story,’ in her reporting of Sam.”
He continued by sharing that athletes historically have always been pigeon holed into a box.
“I think that we are at a moment that we have to be very honest that this is something that’s new,” Davis explained. “He is the first openly gay player. The media has to understand, they can’t treat someone like they are an outcast or different. If you treat all players with the same type of respect and dignity, you will have a much better chance of getting to the truth. When will we look at them from an athlete perspective?”
Zeigler added that ESPN has made a few mistakes in reporting on LGBT issues.
“For a network, ESPN has a pretty good track record on LGBT issues, but for some reason this year they have had two or three mistakes concerning this issue. Someone there needs to have a conversation about how this is happening. Other media outlets get it.”
Davis, who is the executive director of the You Can Play Project, shared that ESPN’s coverage of Sam shows that more education and training is needed in reporting on LGBT issues within sports.
“There is some type of fascination with people being LGBT,” he said. “This is the opportunity we have to change that. We end up taking away from the whole person and focus on one specific action on them instead of them as a whole. It speaks to that a lot more education and training that needs to be done for us all. We have to take time to learn, so that in future these mistakes aren’t made again.”