And guess what: they're exactly the same as every single one of his openly straight teammates.
Michael Sam, a seventh-round draft pick from Missouri, has sweated countless hours this summer as he fights to make the cut for the St. Louis Rams, which has been gradually winnowing down its rookie-filled roster to a final 53 players for the regular season. But the athletic performance of the first openly gay player to be drafted by a professional football team wasn't what interested ESPN in its latest segment on the player. No, the network seemed much more concerned about perpetuating unfortunate stereotypes about gay athletes.
Indeed, instead of focusing on Sam's staying power, ESPN reporter Josina Anderson spent almost the entire two minutes discussing a detail that would be completely irrelevant for Sam's heterosexual counterparts: How he prefers to use the locker room showers.
Fortunately — and perhaps not surprisingly — Sam's teammates appeared rather nonplussed by the rather unconventional line of questioning. Sam's heterosexual, married teammate defensive end Chris Long may have summed up the sentiment perfectly with this viral tweet sent soon after word of the network's benign homophobia began to spread:
Dear ESPN, Everyone but you is over it.— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) August 26, 2014
Translation? The team could care less about when Michael Sam uses the locker room.
But Long wasn't the only one shaking his head. Anderson told her SportsCenter host she had spoken with an unnamed Rams defensive player who noticed Sam hadn't been taking a lot of showers, but shrugged the whole thing off as mostly speculation. "From his perspective, Michael Sam is waiting to take a shower as not to make his teammates feel uncomfortable," Anderson said. She added that linebacker Alec Ogletree and defensive tackle Kendall Langford said Sam's locker-room etiquette wasn't even an issue on their radar.
Anderson's report may have been in earnest, but there's no question that it also plays into the media's unnecessary sensationalization of Sam's sexuality. The report also perpetuates the tired homophobic trope that depicts gay men as threatening, predatory and hypersexualized figures who can't be trusted in locker rooms lest they make heterosexual men unwilling targets for their advances.
If Long's quip is any indication, most of the players, just like Langford and Ogletree, aren't too concerned about whether or not Sam will fit in, or if his presence in the locker room will pose any real or perceived danger to other players. So why is ESPN so apparently obsessed with sensationalizing Sam's story for viewers, some of whom may otherwise be ignorant about gay people? At best, this makes for pretty boring television. But at worst, it runs the risk of fueling an invasive curiosity about the personal and professional lives of LGBT athletes, to the point of making gays into caricatures.
Thankfully, that's what Sam's teammates weren't willing to do for Anderson, with Langford adding that Sam is "one of the guys" and is simply taking a rookie approach in terms of listening and learning at his own pace.
Next time, ESPN may want to play up the sports instead, leaving invasive and homophobic questions on the bench where they belong.
h/t Huffington Post