So, Sports Illustrated got slammed this week for unnecessary roughness. For being anti-PC. For using a small set of lesser and anonymous pigskin-industry sources to predict social, personal and professional disaster for Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive star who “came out” on the doorstep of an NFL career.
But the question is: did that skepticism, paranoia even, color this cover? Was the attempt here to illustrate, pulling one of the quotes, a guy who “would chemically unbalance” a locker room?
We do, in this case, have some words about the cover. USA Today has this description and quote from Sports Illustrated managing editor Chris Stone:
The photo they chose is a file photo of him pointing directly at the lens.
“We went through a bunch of pictures of him and that photo was just so striking,” Stone said. “(It seemed like) he had a very direct message and that photo displayed someone who is very confident.”
So what are we looking at: Sam the alien or the picture of confidence?
Since we were meeting for coffee, I ran the question past one of my new friends in Berkeley, a guy whose had a long career as one of those Mad Men. Emphasizing how well outfits like SI know their audience, he was doubtful — contrary to the tone of the story — that the photo was disparaging at all. Rather, he imagined SI was picturing Sam in a completely normative way … when it comes to professional football players — in other words, as one more in-your-face, adrenaline-charged gladiator.
I think this is about right. Sports Illustrated’s cover actual plays Sam as just another mainstream football player whose shere force of personality is seen on the football field, right up there with Richard Sherman’s cover picture,
And this quote is telling:
If I was walking down the street and someone asked me if I was gay, I would’ve told them I was gay. I wasn’t afraid.
He flips the standard trope. Sam is so in your face, confident and macho that he is simply not afraid whether you know he is gay.
Times sure change.