So Michael Sam has a reality show now, and I'm just gonna go ahead and align myself with the HOT TAKES crowd and say that Sam just pissed away a whole lot of the goodwill he'd built up for himself these past few months. They can class up the announcement all they like. They can call it a "documentary" series even though it's a dirty little secret that even acclaimed documentary filmmakers will coach subjects and have them do multiple takes. They can do all that and it still won't scrub away the fact that reality shows are fucking beat and no one worth a shit bothers to do them.
This isn't a football issue, or even a matter of distraction. This is me just saying that a reality show is always a transparent and pathetic exercise in self-branding. It's what Darren Rovell would do if he were an athlete. There's no reason to expect Sam to be any more authentic a public figure than any other football player. But between the carefully scripted public-relations campaign that inaugurated his coming-out and now the news that his life will be a reality show overseen by Oprah Winfrey, the queen of aspirational disingenuousness, our first openly gay NFL player seems to exist now entirely within quotation marks. He is another packaged product being sold to us at heavy markup—commodified smarm at best, and at worst something downright cynical, something that leverages real emotions in service of a marketing strategy. No one wants to find out that Lou Gehrig's farewell speech was copywritten by a dude at Pfizer.
We're just coming off of David Ortiz luring the president into a stupid Samsung ad campaign and Eric Ebron proposing to his girlfriend as part of a scheme by Gillette and that one video of "strangers" kissing that, again, turned out to be a stupid ad. As a result, I can't trust any genuine moment to be genuine anymore. I always suspect I'm looking at the soft end of a product pitch. Now that Sam has a reality show, can anyone believe with 100 percent confidence that the kiss he shared with his boyfriend on camera last Saturday was a real and true moment? They probably had a dress rehearsal. Sam was probably standing on a taped X to make sure he hit his mark. The whole thing was probably choreographed by Macklemore. God, Macklemore sucks.
A few months ago, Sam asked fans to let their guards down and invest in him in a very different way than they do in, say, Johnny Football or RGIII. Now he's chosen the favored path of every D-list asshole in America. Go ahead and look at the list of NFL athletes with their own reality shows: T.O., Chad Johnson, the Jets—things ended badly for them. No one escapes this shit with his dignity intact. I'm going to guess that Oprah's people—they include the guy who brought you American Chopper and someone who ran Lindsay Lohan's reality show—give exactly zero shits about Michael Sam's actual football career. Their only interest is in taking his little claim to history and absorbing it into Oprah's big phony inspiration mill. Michael Sam busted out of the closet, and Oprah was there!
It does him no favors to be part of this, but here we are anyway, and everything feels just a little icky. Our first openly gay player in the NFL is a total abstraction, a commercial for himself, an actor named Michael Sam playing the role of "Michael Sam" on The Michael Sam Show. Those quotation marks he's trapped inside of are looking more and more like another kind of closet.
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