The kiss seen 'round the sports world on ESPN took quite a bit of planning and a whole lot of luck.
Like football fans everywhere, ESPN knew that Michael Sam, the first openly gay pro football prospect, was going to be the story of last week's NFL draft. What it didn't know was whether Sam would even be drafted, given the attention generated by the self-disclosure of his sexual orientation in February and his fading stock among draft watchers.
Nevertheless, ESPN's cameras were in place Saturday when St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher called Sam at his agent's house in San Diego to tell the former University of Missouri defensive lineman that they had selected him in the seventh and last round of the draft.
What the cameras caught next was something remarkable — and certainly rarely seen on Disney-owned ESPN: a tearful Sam receiving congratulations from his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, complete with a kiss between the two men.
Congratulatory kisses are common in sports, although they usually occur between husbands and wives or boyfriends and girlfriends. This one drew alternating waves of shock, anger and gratitude from around the Twittersphere and elsewhere after ESPN aired it, on a tape-delayed basis, at 6:40 p.m. EST Saturday followed quickly by a replay on the NFL Network.
Some, like GLAAD (the organization formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination), said it was "a significant milestone," according to Ross Murray, its director of news. "It was touching," Murray said.
But many — including some players — recoiled: "Im not watching @espn until this Michael Sam story dies. It's gross. I'm not tryna watch 2 dudes kiss on a sports show," was one of the milder anti-Sam sentiments on Twitter. Miami Dolphins player Don Jones tweeted, "OMG," though he later deleted it, and another critical comment, and apologized.
The coverage of Sam's big moment took several months of planning by ESPN, which began preparing to follow Sam's progress in the draft shortly after he publicly came out in February. "We talked about it in production meetings for months," said Seth Markman, who oversaw ESPN's draft coverage. "We knew he'd be in the draft, but we didn't know what round. We knew we had to figure out a way to attack it."
Based on its draft projections, ESPN reckoned that Sam would go in the later rounds — if he made it at all. As such, the network decided not to assign a camera crew to him on Thursday or Friday, when teams made their first selections (the network had gained exclusive access to Sam because it is producing a feature on him to go with an award he will receive at the network's ESPY Awards in July).
In any case, it opted to wait until Saturday — the draft's final day — to turn its cameras on him, figuring that Sam, disappointed by not being picked early, might be too discouraged to let a crew trail him to the bitter end. The network also agreed that it wouldn't air any footage if Sam wasn't picked.
After nearly a full day of waiting, Sam got the call from the Rams a little after 6 p.m. He was the 249th player selected out of 256. His family and friends began to celebrate.
And at that moment, ESPN's producers in New York lost the live feed from California, where its crew was with Sam. A thunderstorm near network headquarters in Bristol, Conn., knocked out a relay of the California feed from Bristol to Manhattan.
Fortunately, the ESPN crew in California caught the emotional celebration on tape and fed a recording back to the network's draft-production truck outside Radio City Music Hall in New York. ESPN's producer in California, Maura Mandt, told Markman, "It's great! It's emotional!"
Which is exactly what Markman said he saw when he saw the feed. "Honestly, when it was coming in, we have a very young production crew here, everyone in the [production] truck thought, 'How great is this!' No one was speaking up saying, 'We shouldn't show this.' The reaction was, this is no different than a heterosexual guy kissing his girlfriend. It's emotional, and let's show it. It was only afterward that we realized we showed a man kissing a man. And we thought, 'Well, that's different.' "
Another apparent first: As part of its coverage, the network also featured reaction from a draft party at a gay bar, Gym Sportsbar, in West Hollywood.
After the kiss had aired and the negative Twitter reaction started rolling in, Markman says, the network realized it had touched a nerve.
"It's a shame," he says. "Our job is to document the draft. It's a news event, and we're covering the news. As producers we don't make social and political decisions. I'm glad we're talking about this [the decision to show the kiss] than talking about why we decided to cut out of that shot or not have the shot at all."
The kiss seen 'round the sports world on ESPN took quite a bit of planning and a whole lot of luck.
Bulldog grad a Carolina Panther
Former Edmond Memorial linebacker Anthony Morales is not going to attend school this fall at Weber State University.
Instead, he signed an NFL contract with the Carolina Panthers Thursday morning.
“I’m on the 90-man roster and I've got to make the cut, so I’ll be in the preseason games and then after the third one, they do the cut to 55 and then after the last game, they go down to 53,” Morales said. “(The Panthers)” have 10 linebackers, including myself.”
Edmond swimmers dominate at All-State meet
Edmond was again well represented in the All-State swim meet Monday night in Jenks. The West dominated the East, rambling away to a convincing 72-21 decision in the girls competition. The West boys cleared the East, 55-38.
In girls action, Edmond North graduate Olivia Seefeldt won a pair of individual events, taking the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle. She was also a member of the 200 medley relay and 200 free relay teams, which also won gold medals.
Edmond Santa Fe hosting Punt, Pass & Kick competition
Young pro football fans will have the opportunity to exhibit their football skills when the Edmond Santa Fe Touchdown Club hosts an NFL Punt, Pass & Kick competition Saturday, Aug. 16 at the Edmond Santa Fe Football Stadium, 1901 N.W. 15th St. Registration will begin at 8 a.m. with the competition kicking off an hour later. Punt, Pass & Kick is free and open to boys and girls ages 6-15. Entry forms and rules are available online at NFLPPK.com. For competition information, contact Kelly Kay at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deer Creek 2nd largest in Class 5A
With the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association releasing enrollment figures, Deer Creek stands as the second-largest school in Class 5A with 1,252 students.
Lawton Eisenhower, which had been a very strong football program in 6A, is now tops in 5A with 1,281 students.
Schedules in football classification still remain the same until 2016-17. Del City will move back into 6A beginning in 2016.
The statistics will not be deemed official until pending approval at the OSSAA’s board meeting next month.
Wilson, Grissom take on more suitable roles for 2015 season
Experience comes from encountering the same things in the same ways over and over again. Oklahoma’s Geneo Grissom and Julian Wilson have that at defensive end and nickleback in bunches.
However, both will be seeing new things when practice begins. Grissom is moving to outside linebacker. Wilson will be getting a look at cornerback as his senior season begins.
The moves were made to aid OU’s defense. They could benefit both in the future.
Yurcich ready for second season
With the 2014 season on the brink, Mike Yurcich, Oklahoma State University football offensive coordinator, is ready for his second year at the helm after coaching a powerful offensive squad a year ago.
Yurcich and most of the Cowboys’ coaching staff attended the annual media golf outing Wednesday at Karsten Creek. He, along with the other assistant coaches, talked about the upcoming season.
“Every offense is going to be a little bit different from year to year, depending on the personnel,” Yurcich said. “I think you learn a little bit more about the players, because you know them for a longer time. You know a little bit more about the coaches you work with because you’re around them a little bit longer. All of those things factor into one more year of experience.
Wallar voted National Tennis Coach of the Year finalist
The National High School Athletic Coaches Association honored Dee Ann Waller, coach and teacher from Edmond North High School, as a finalist for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association National Coach of the Year in tennis.
Eight finalists from across the nation were chosen to be honored during The National Coach of the Year awards banquet that took place during the National High School Athletic Coaches Association’s national convention June 14-18, at the Snow King Resort in Jackson Hole, Wy.
McKey to compete in North American final
Edmond’s Mary McKey, who attends John Carroll Catholic School in Oklahoma City, qualified for the Hershey’s Track & Field Games North American Final after winning the Hershey’s Oklahoma State Meet June 28.
McKey, 12, had the fastest time in the region that consists of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, New Mexico and Puerto Rico. Hershey only accepts eight runners from North America.
McKey is a Catholic grade school champion and the first Catholic student to qualify for the North American final. She is also a Jim Thorpe Games 400-meter champion.
The North American final will run Aug. 2 in Hershey, Pa.
Former quarterback Bell has pedigree to dominate at tight end for Sooners
The question came quickly to Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. Are there any plans to use Blake Bell at quarterback — in some capacity?
“That’s funny, it keeps coming up,” Stoops said Tuesday at Big 12 Media Days. “Blake was recruited definitely as a quarterback. But when you look at him now after three years, he is the pro-type at tight end. He’s got great hands, great size. He can run. Natural spacing as far as where to be in his routes.”
So, the answer is no.
Smith ready to begin the next chapter with Ravens
During his long drive to Maryland from his North Carolina home Sunday, veteran wide receiver Steve Smith had plenty of time to think about an offseason defined by a dramatic change in his life.
After 13 years with the Carolina Panthers, Smith was cut in March following one of the least productive seasons of his career. The Ravens promptly signed him to a three-year, $11 million contract.
Smith remained in a reflective mood as veterans officially reported to camp Wednesday. Smith, however, showed up Monday eager for his new start.
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