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No hesitation for networks airing Michael Sam's emotional reaction following draft

Posted: May 12, 2014 - 6:35am

NEW YORK | The handsome football player gets drafted by an NFL team, plants an emotional kiss on his sweetheart and gives sportscasts a feel-good video clip.

It's a scene that plays out for dozens of draft picks.

But when a sobbing Michael Sam celebrated his selection by the St. Louis Rams by hugging and kissing his partner, another man, it made real and physical that an openly gay athlete had taken an unprecedented step toward an NFL career.

For some, the reaction was joy. For others, there was dismay or even anger. For the networks that carried and repeatedly aired the scene, it was business as usual.

Producer Seth Markman, who oversees NFL draft coverage for ESPN, said that in the extensive preparation for Sam's possible draft, "we never had one discussion about, 'What if he's drafted, his partner's there and they kiss?' Honestly, it never came up."

He suggested a possible generational split over how much it matters.

"When I got home last night and saw the attention (it was receiving), it kind of threw me," he said. "We're a young production crew and quite honestly it was just another moment in the years we've done this."

"In the truck, we were only saying, 'Wow, this is great emotion here.' No one stepped up and said, 'Oh, wow, do we really want to be showing this?'"

The same holds true for the NFL Network, which had an agreement to show the video taken by ESPN at the San Diego home of Sam's agent and first aired by Disney-owned ESPN.

"We had no discussion on the NFL Network side about how or how much or how little we would show, if or when Michael was selected," said Mike Muriano, NFL Network senior coordinating producer.

"We were certainly not blind or deaf to the cultural significance," but draft day can be similarly life-changing for all the players and those close to them, he said. "We try to tap into that with all these kids."

Timing amplified and extended the story's play on both networks, since it came near the draft's conclusion and the networks could stick with Sam instead of quickly moving on to another pick.

If the display of affection had been edited by ESPN, Markman said, it would have been inconsistent with more than three decades of draft-day coverage that includes a long string of players kissing their girlfriends.

"We're there to document the moment, not make a political statement," he said.

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said she was thrilled that ESPN and the NFL Network carried the couple's display of affection.

"As media and corporations continue to embrace and support LGBT people, it's almost second nature that there isn't a mechanism to think twice about, 'Could that be controversial, is that overstepping?'" Ellis said.

The growth of gay marriage and news coverage of ceremony-sealing kisses by gay and lesbian couples have become increasingly commonplace. The quick pecks between Sam and his partner, former Missouri varsity swimmer Vito Cammisano — they even shared cake, wedding style — were similar, but different.

Context is everything, and the context is the hyper-manly sport of football, where muscles and toughness reign and, until Sam, the only sexuality openly displayed was hetero.

"The definition of masculinity shifted today, whether consciously or not, because during the hyper-masculine NFL draft, a man kissed another man on national television. The NFL and the media are expanding everyone's consciousness," said Wade Davis, a former NFL player who is the executive director of You Can Play Project, an advocacy group aimed at getting homophobia out of sports.

To write off negative reaction as bigotry is to oversimplify it, Davis said.

"People are used to seeing two people being intimate during the NFL draft. Just not these two people," said Davis, who is gay. "It's not necessarily people being homophobic. I think people push back naturally because it's so much out of the norm."

Sam's embrace of Cammisano was instinctive, not a plotted-out statement, said Howard Bragman, the vice chairman of and public relations expert has been working with Sam.

"Once you make that leap as a gay person (to come out), you want to live your life openly and freely and not use a filter of what's appropriate according to social norms," Bragman said Saturday, adding, "If today is about anything, it's about being able to do that and being authentic."

Reaction to the video was mostly positive, Muriano said, although he acknowledged that the expression of gay affection is at odds with some people's beliefs. Some online postings deplored the kiss as inappropriate for family viewing; others were even harsher in their distaste.

But it's inevitable, Muriano said, that for football and sports in general "it's an image that will last."

Sam, who was not certain to be drafted and was taken with the 249th overall pick out of 256, still has to prove himself to make the team. But he's already helping to make a difference off the field.

When Markman's wife explained to their 7-year-old son that dad was busy working on something that was controversial, Sam's kiss on TV, the boy replied: "Is it because they're not married?"

Comments (11)

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scooterb 05/13/14 - 12:42 pm
Premium Member
Hey @Random Guy, You must

Hey @Random Guy,
You must be jealous.... @Secondguesser defined it perfectly..Read it.

Stecker 05/12/14 - 10:26 pm
Premium Member
@ Gatortales: "He certainly

@ Gatortales: "He certainly offers a new perspective on his team's name."

Thanks for the laugh!

I read in the NY Post that he was griping about homophobia being the reason he wasn't selected by the 3rd round. I doubt that. Teams will take anyone who will help them win. But what may have been a factor is wanting to avoid a Tebow-like circus that will now descend upon St. Louis.

SparkyL56 05/12/14 - 03:39 pm
Premium Member
At least there was no tongue

At least there was no tongue action

RandomGuy 05/12/14 - 10:52 am
"Why not give normal people a

"Why not give normal people a break..."

Yeah, "normal" people have it so rough. Poor normal people... they just can't catch a break.

Hahaha. I love it when the "normal" people whine and cry about something as silly as this.

TMJAX 05/12/14 - 09:50 am
Premium Member
The hypocrisy of this whole

The hypocrisy of this whole situation is astounding. During the 5th-7th rounds of the draft, Rich Eisen, Mike Mayock et al were all saying (in reference to Sam's orientation) "It's a non-issue, it doesn't even warrant discussion..." And yet all they did was talk about it, for hours. It's amazing to hear people say "I don't want to hear about it, I don't think we should talk about it because it's not important," and yet continue going on and on about. I kept thinking, "if it's not important, could we please talk about any of the other 255 draftees or maybe show some of his highlights and talk about his playing style?"

Mr. Sam is a football player and all that needs to be evaluated is whether or not he can play football at a high level. The media, however, shamelessly tried to over-indulge itself in the story by milking the angle while also trying to posture itself above the fray by having the on-air personalities say how "it's not an issue." Sorry, but you can't have it both ways, and in this instance, the media decided to make a sideshow of LGBT issues.

No matter how much the Eisens or Mayocks of the world try to downplay it, when you replay his reaction 40 times in one hour or keep running his draft status on continuous loop on the ticker as "the first openly gay player has been drafted...", you've made his sexuality the focal point of the story, which straight or otherwise should never be the focus of a football player being drafted into the NFL.

In that spirit, he was co-defensive player of the year at Mizzou. He has great closing speed and adds depth to an already deep Rams defensive line featuring Robert Quinn. They had a great draft, getting guys like Greg Robinson, Aaron Donald and Tre Mason. They got better, but they still play in the toughest division in football. Should be a great season.

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