After airing a report detailing the shower habits of Michael Sam, the first openly gay draftee in the National Football League, ESPN has apologized for failing to meet its own standards.
“ESPN regrets the manner in which we presented our report,” reads a statement posted to Twitter Wednesday by spokesman Josh Krulewitz. “Clearly yesterday we collectively failed to meet the standards we have set in reporting on LGBT-related topics in sports.”
In a segment that aired on “SportsCenter” Tuesday morning, ESPN reporter Josina Anderson was asked how Sam was fitting in with his teammates on the St. Louis Rams. The 24-year-old Mizzou alum made history earlier this year when he was drafted 249th out of 256 in the seventh and final round, becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL.
Anderson began her report with a quote from defensive tackle Kendall Langford saying that Sam was “just one of the guys.” But then she cited another, unnamed defensive player, who told her that Sam was keeping his distance, particularly when it came to the shower.
“Another Rams defensive player told me that ‘Sam is respecting our space’ and that, from his perspective, he seems to think that Michael Sam is waiting to take a shower, as not to make his teammates feel uncomfortable,” said Anderson. “Langford and linebacker Alec Ogletree told me that they didn’t know that specifically and also weren’t tracking that.”
The report soon went viral, with many calling it unnecessary, awkward, and offensive. Outsports.com co-founder Cyd Zeigler went so far as to post a video of himself in the shower to criticize the network.
“As a gay man, I have to shower by myself in my own shower because, God forbid, I might shower with straight guys – there might be some kind of issue there. At least, that’s the message that Josina Anderson was sending,” said Zeigler in the video. “It’s disgusting to me that she, and frankly that ESPN, would allow this to happen.”
At first, ESPN defended its journalism, saying in a statement that “multiple Rams brought up the shower topic and we relayed that information as part of our reporting.” But the escalating backlash eventually led the network to give a mea culpa. Few responses topped that of veteran defensive end Chris Long, who took to Twitter with this message: