ESPN issued a brief apology Wednesday morning for a widely criticized report on whether Michael Sam’s St. Louis Rams teammates were comfortable showering with the man who could become the NFL’s first openly gay player.
“ESPN regrets the manner in which we presented our report,” the network said in a statement posted on its web site. “Clearly on Tuesday we collectively failed to meet the standards we have set in reporting on LGBT-related topics in sports.”
The report was immediately and roundly criticized Tuesday by players like Rams defensive end Chris Long and You Can Play Project co-founder Patrick Burke. You Can Play executive director Wade Davis, a former NFL player who came out as gay after his career ended, also expressed disappointment in the segment in an email to ThinkProgress.
“Training camp is extremely mentally and physically exhausting for all players and to echo what Mike’s brothers’ said, ‘no one is watching or noticing when ANYONE showers.’ The majority of the guys are focused on making the team not being shower monitors,” Davis said, referencing the fact that two of Sam’s teammates cited in the report said only that they weren’t tracking his shower habits.
“The media can continue to try and perpetuate the ‘homophobic’ athlete narrative or we can use this opportunity to debunk myths and create an environment where LGBT youth are curious & excited to be involved in sports,” Davis said, adding that it was “beautiful to watch the team focused on coming together as a family” during his visit to Rams camp this week.
ESPN has done a good job covering Sam and other gay athletes in its print and web products. ESPN The Magazine, for instance, featured Kate Fagan’s profile of openly gay basketball player Brittney Griner on a June 2013 cover, and The Mag also published an excellent David Fleming piece that detailed what goes on in locker room showers and why Sam will have no problem fitting into NFL locker rooms (the piece featured positive reactions to Sam from some of his teammates, including Long). Its online beat writers have provided solid reports about Sam’s efforts to make the Rams’ roster.
But the network’s on-air coverage of Sam and other gay athletes has varied in quality. Its live coverage of moments like Sam’s draft experience (including a post-selection kiss with his boyfriend) and openly gay player Robbie Rogers’ return to Major League Soccer, has received high marks from ombudsman Robert Lipsyte and other observers. But as Rolling Stone’s Jordan Sargent and others have noted, the on-air product has at times struggled to live up to the standard the print side has set, with Tuesday’s segment another example.
For his part, Sam made the first roster cut Tuesday, when NFL teams had to trim their rosters from 90 players to just 75. He is currently battling at least two other defensive linemen for what is thought to be a single spot on the final 53-man roster, which NFL teams have to announce by noon Saturday.