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?’”
“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.