Michael Sam Gets Documentary Series on OWN

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on Advocate.com May 15 2014 7:54 PM ET

Michael Sam’s experience as the first openly gay NFL player will be chronicled in a documentary series on the Oprah Winfrey Network, OWN announced Wednesday.

“This special documentary series will feature a deeply personal, up-close look at the remarkable man at the center of this groundbreaking moment in professional sports, as the All-American defensive end and SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year enters the competitive world of professional football,” says an OWN press release, posted online by Outsports. “Cameras will follow Sam as he works to earn his spot on the St. Louis Rams all while under the intense scrutiny of being the first openly gay player in the NFL.”

“Like every player out there working to make a team right now, my focus is on playing football to the very best of my ability,” Sam said in the press release. “I am determined. And if seeing my story helps somebody else accept who they are and to go for their dreams too, that’s great. I am thankful to Oprah for her support and excited to work together.”

“We are honored that Michael is trusting us with his private journey in this moment that has not only made history but will shape it forever,” said Winfrey. “I am proud of the focus on authentic storytelling in our new documentary series format. The next real-life story we follow in ‘The Untitled Michael Sam Project’ promises to spark valuable, important discussion on life in America today. Acceptance and illumination start here.” 

The series will air in six to eight segments, ESPN reports. OWN will produce it in partnership with Emmy-winning producer Craig Piligian’s Pilgrim Studios. The production team will include Sam’s agents and publicist as well.

Some sports commentators are already looking askance at the move. It could prove a distraction to Sam and his teammates, said USA Today’s Chris Strauss. “The glut of cameras watching Sam’s every move will make it difficult enough to focus on football without bringing his own (no pun intended) crew along,” Strauss wrote.

He also noted, “The Oprah Winfrey Network can try to give the show heft by branding it as a ‘special documentary series’ but keep in mind that’s exactly how they billed [the network’s Lindsay Lohan reality show]. It’s not exactly The Fog of War.

Sam’s decision to do the series may be “unwise,” wrote ESPN’s Nick Wagoner. “While it’s certainly understandable to want to document a groundbreaking, historic story,” Wagoner said, “it also doesn’t seem conducive to making it all about football, which was the message Sam delivered repeatedly throughout his introductory news conference Tuesday.”