TV Review - Michael Sam

Michael Sam sits down with Oprah Winfrey
in an exclusive interview following documentary
On February 9, 2014, college football player Michael Sam who attended the University of Missouri went on ESPN and did a national interview admitting that he's gay. Being a highly acclaimed player, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the prospect was that he was going to be drafted into the NFL, which would make him the first openly gay person to do so. People would know he was gay before playing professionally. There have been of course other players who have admitted to being gay but only after playing professionally and being retired but never before or during. Because of this potentially historic and landmark situation, the media attention surrounding Sam became intense.

The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) decided to go further and do a reality series on Michael Sam's career. That idea was canceled and the series was reduced to this one simple movie. The idea was canceled not long after Sam was drafted to the NFL and he officially became a historical figure. Given that Sam's career was a short one and was essentially over by October 2014, the decision to cancel was a prescient one, but, allowing more access in the preceding three months could have yielded a more interesting movie.

Immediately following this documentary, Oprah Winfrey conducted a one-on-one talk with Michael Sam as part of her new Oprah Prime series. That half-hour talk revealed more about Sam than the documentary did in all its 90-minute length. Director Amy Rice shows her hand when during an argument between Sam and Howard Bragman, a publicist and gay rights activist, her camera pulls away, and Rice doesn't do a follow-up interview with Bragman.

We are introduced to Sam's boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, but, besides being a swimmer who attended the same college as Sam, we learn next to nothing about Cammisano. Sam and Cammisano met at a party, and Cammisano puts his life on hold for Sam, yet we don't get much more. I couldn't even say what Cammisano's major was in college or if he has any brothers and sisters. After Sam's NFL career quickly ends, he gets two jobs to support them but we never learn what those jobs are. What does Cammisano do?

I understand what the title of this movie is and who it's really about, but a lot of what Sam does and how he gets through the ups and downs of trying to become a NFL player is with Cammisano's support and companionship. Learning more about him would have been preferrable.

Ironically, the website has more information on Cammisano that I wish was in the documentary. There are bonus clips about Cammisano's mom and the two of them talking about their relationship and spending time together in private or before going to the ESPY Awards that would have added much to the movie.

However, it's not surprising because Rice barely gives us anything about Sam himself. We do learn that he grew up in a small town in Texas. He was one of eight children. Many of whom had tragic outcomes in their lives. This movie gives it all such short shrift. It's not until Oprah Prime that we learn how Sam's brothers bullied him and how his mom was a Jehovah's Witness. The documentary fails to provide a full or complete history to Sam's early life.

This movie also had problems in that even though it's about a drafted NFL player, it doesn't dig into football as much as it probably should have. For someone who knows nothing about how the draft works and how NFL teams actually prepare their rosters going into the fall season, this movie is very educational and teaches a lot, but there are details that aren't here that Rice perhaps didn't care to push for.

We sit and we watch the NFL draft and Sam and agents watch the draft, but there's no analysis of the draft. We get the structure of it. 256 players are chosen over the course of a few days in seven rounds, and the majority of the movie is just waiting, sitting and waiting. It would have helped to build tension, if the outcome hadn't already been known.

What Rice should have done is provide context, more facts and statistics, but we don't get anything in terms of stats on Sam as a defensive end. I couldn't even tell you what Sam's weight and height is. There is a scene where Sam is walking poolside in nothing but shorts and we see how much of a beefcake he is, but there's no real sense of his record as compared to others, especially other draftees. How fast is he? How strong is he? What can he bench? How many tackles or sacks has he gotten?

The fact of the matter is that there are dozens and dozens of good players who get cut every year. Michael Sam is just another in a long line. The only interest in Sam is his sexuality. If Sam weren't gay, no attention would be paid to him and the majority of America wouldn't know his name or who he is. He would have been just another player, probably quickly forgotten when he was cut.

Regardless, Michael Sam is now a historical figure and a beautiful man, so watching him in this crazy ride is still fascinating.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14-L.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.
Aired December 27th at 9PM on OWN.


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