Michael Sam Moves Up Coming Out Announcement After Several Leaks
Fifteen Minutes PR Founder Howard Bragman, who worked with NFL Draft prospect and former Univ. of Missouri DE Michael Sam on last night's announcement that he is gay, "wanted the TV element to be on ESPN" and wanted to "include Outsports in the plan," according to Cyd Zeigler of OUTSPORTS.com. Bragman has a "working relationship with ABC, who shares a parent company -- Disney -- with ESPN." He also had worked with ESPN reporter Chris Connelly and "respected his work, and he knew ESPN would treat Sam well." Bragman also knew he "wanted to give Outsports the 'behind the scenes' story." Print media, which was "the last piece," was "the big question." Zeigler noted USA Today was considered, the cover of Time "would be huge," and Jason Collins "had come out in Sports Illustrated." Bragman thought about asking ESPN Ombudsman Robert Lipsyte "to write the story for ESPN The Magazine but quickly squashed that" as he "didn't want one company controlling the TV and print." Bragman "quickly settled on" the N.Y. Times and writer John Branch, who had "written several well-received articles about LGBT athletes." The plan "was set" for the story to "break right after the NFL Combine" on each of the three outlets. But Sam's team decided to "speed up the process" after last month's Senior Bowl, when scouts were asking Sam's agents "about their client's personal life." Then last Friday, the "best-laid plan began to unravel" as Bragman "got a call from the Columbia Missourian" and another from SI's Jon Wertheim. SI "knew everything and they wanted to break the story," but Wertheim "graciously played ball and agreed to not jump the gun." Then it became "clear that Bleacher Report was aware of the story." For Sam and his team, the "most important element to the entire process has been protecting Sam's ability to tell his story himself first." It was "with that in mind that the team moved up the release" (OUTSPORTS.com, 2/9).
LOCALS KNEW, BUT HELD THE NEWS: The Columbia MISSOURIAN's Greg Bowers writes under the header, "The Sam Story Began Brewing In August." Reporter Erik Hall "wanted to try to localize" Russia President Vladimir Putin's "anti-gay propaganda stance" before the Sochi Games. Hall "went to work" and "came back with some names" including Sam's. Hall "called Sam and asked if he would agree to an interview to talk about his sexuality." Sam "agreed," then "changed his mind." Sam "never refused to do the interview, just said, 'He wasn't ready.'" Sam at one point "even suggested that 'we were trying to out him.'" Bowers: "We weren’t. As far as we were concerned, only one person could out him, and that was Sam. ... We could've written the story. Other journalists might have written the story. But it wasn't the right thing to do" (Columbia MISSOURIAN, 2/10).
MEDIA MONITOR: Sam’s announcement was covered by all three network morning shows before their first commercial breaks. CBS' Norah O'Donnell said it had the potential to be a "watershed moment in American sports" ("CBS This Morning," CBS, 2/10). ABC's George Stephanopoulos said Sam's announcement was "groundbreaking news for the NFL." ABC's Josh Elliott: "I do hope the world that he is entering is ready for him and those 32 front offices as well. But what a brave young man" ("GMA," ABC, 2/10). NBC's Willie Geist said, "You're already hearing some anonymous NFL sources saying, 'Well, he could be a distraction in the locker room with his new issue.' But he wasn't so much of a distraction for a team that played in the SEC Championship game, went 12-2 and won the Cotton Bowl" ("Today," NBC, 2/10).