ST. LOUIS (CBS St. Louis/AP) — The kiss seen around the world was almost not seen at all.
ESPN producer Seth Markman, who oversaw the NFL draft coverage for the network, told The Monday Morning Quarterback that they lost the feed of Michael Sam due to a thunderstorm.
“So it’s now a little past 6:30 p.m. and all of a sudden I look up and the feed from where Michael is disappears. Gone. Totally black. And there are only a few picks left in the draft. We’re in the truck in New York basically freaking out,” Markman explained. “It turns out Bristol [ESPN’s headquarters] had thunderstorms that had come through and knocked our feed out. So I immediately call [executive producer of the ESPYs] Maura Mandt, who is onsite with Michael. I tell her, ‘Maura, we lost the feed! We lost the feed!’ ”
Markman recalled that everyone in the production truck outside the draft at Radio City Music Hall was “freaking out” after Sam got drafted because they didn’t know how he was reacting.
“We don’t have the feed as Michael is getting drafted,” Markman told The MMQB. “I’m communicating with Bristol and also on the phone with Maura in California. She says she is going to feed the footage to Bristol and it is a great, emotional moment. I trust Maura and I think she would have told me if there was something I had to be careful with. We didn’t have time to have a discussion about it. So that’s why it took a few minutes for us to get it on the air after he was drafted. At one point we put up a still photo of Michael on the phone with the Rams. As it turned out, that still shot was pretty poignant.”
Markman says the crew did not preview the footage before it went live on air.
“It was essentially live to us in the truck when we rolled it. The only thing I knew was that Maura described it as ‘emotional video.’ So we got in [host] Trey’s Wingo’s ear and told him basically, Here is the video, look at the monitor and describe it,” Markman detailed to The MMQB. “To Trey’s credit, he laid out [stopped talking], which was ultra-professional of him. So the tape is rolling, the moment with Michael is happening, and honestly, in our production truck out of everyone, there was only one person who asked, ‘Is this going too far?’ We all thought: This is a great, emotional, historic moment. Let it go.”
The video of Sam kissing and celebrating with his boyfriend Vito Cammisano immediately went viral.
“In the end, I am glad our team made the decision we did,” Markman told The MMQB. “It was a just a really cool moment to be involved in.”
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.
Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), 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 has become increasingly commonplace. The quick pecks between Sam and Cammisano, 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 Reputation.com 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?”
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