February 16th, 2014

College football star reveals he’s gay

Today on CNN’s Reliable Sources hosted by Brian Stelter, founder of 15Minutes.com and Michael Sam’s representative, Howard Bragman, and editor of Breitbart Sports, Dan Flynn, spoke with Brian about NFL prospect Michael Sam announcing that he’s gay, and the media coverage about the reaction within the football community.

A transcript of the discussion is available after the jump.


BRIAN STELTER, HOST:  We will get to all of those stories on the show today, plus Comcast’s mega merger that was announced this week.

But first, there has been a mountain of media coverage in recent days about Michael Sam, the college football star who made this announcement.


MICHAEL SAM:  I came to tell the world that I’m an openly proud gay man.

REPORTER: How does that feel to say those words to the world?

MICHAEL SAM: It’s a, it’s a load off my chest.


STELTER:  What a moment for football.  And the vast majority of stories about him painted a bright picture, that the NFL might finally be ready for an openly gay player.

There were Twitter messages of support from all across professional football and from celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, and even from President Obama.

One of those NFL Twitterers was Richie Incognito.  He’s the Miami Dolphins offensive lineman who’s been accused of bullying teammate, Jonathan Martin.

Here’s what Incognito wrote:  “It takes guts to do what you did.  I wish you nothing but the best.”

But then on Friday, the Wells Report came out.  That was the blue ribbon com — investigation ordered by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell into what really happened in that Miami Dolphins locker room.  The report made clear that Incognito had hurl — hurled homophobic slurs at his teammates, slurs so ugly, we’re not going to be repeating them here.

And it’s bringing up a key question — are people in pro-football saying one thing in front of the cameras and in front of their keyboards but another thing in private?

And has this story been accurately reported this week?

Joining me now to dig deeper into this, in Los Angeles, Howard Bragman, the founder of 15 Minutes PR, which represents Michael Sam and oversaw the rollout of his announcement this week.

And in Boston, Daniel Flynn, the author of “The War on Football:  Saving America’s Game,” who wrote on Breitbart.com about what he thinks is the hidden negative reaction to Sam’s coming out.

Daniel, I want to start with you, because before this, earlier this week, before the Wells Report came out, you wrote that you feel players and coaches are saying one thing in public and another in private.

Now, why did you say that?

DANIEL FLYNN, AUTHOR, “THE WAR ON FOOTBALL:  SAVING AMERICA’S GAME”:  I — I think there’s something inherently dishonest in — in the whole conversation.  Um, that, you know, there is an expected opinion that — that you’re to give publicly on Twitter, uh, when you make announcements and that anyone who sort of veers from that, um, accepted position on homosexuality or Michael Sam’s, you’re going to get in big trouble.

I mean, you think about the two players in the CFL who Tweeted negative reactions to Michael Sam coming out, they got fined by the CFL.

If you think about Peter King at — at, uh, “Sports Illustrated,” all he did was get, uh, some anonymous sources, um, to — to talk about what the — the reception might be for Michael Sam in the NFL, what — how this would — his announcement would affect his draft stock.  And when they gave their honest assessments — they didn’t put their name to it, for obvious reasons, but when they gave their honest assessments, you know, Peter King is being called all sorts of nasty names, uh, in the media, online.

It has a — it has a real chilling effect to speech.  And I think it puts journalists in a — in a real dilemma.  You can either write a story that comes across as a press release from GLAAD and — and people will applaud you, or you can go and dig up the truth, as Peter King did, and people will slam you and call you a bigot and a homophobe and say that you have ulterior motives for writing it.

So I think it — it’s a real sort of a high wire act that a lot of the sports journalists, uh, face in reporting on this story, because they’re almost compelled to — to resto — report on it in a very, uh, (INAUDIBLE) kind of way.

STELTER:  GLAAD, the group you mentioned, for viewers who may not know, that’s the leading advocacy group, uh, for gay rights in the media, encouraging positive images of gays in the media.

Howard, I have a feeling you strongly disagree with what you’re hearing from Daniel.

As someone who orchestrated Michael Sam’s announcement, who helped him make this historic announcement, how do you feel about what he’s saying?

HOWARD BRAGMAN, FOUNDER, 15 MINUTES PR:  Well, I have a pretty good feel for the macro reception for this announcement.  And I can tell you, it’s about 99 percent positive, universally.

Um, owners of NFL teams, coaches like Bill Belichick, people who really know this are saying, hey, he made his announcement, get over it, let’s give him a chance to play football, which is, by the way, all Michael was asking.

Peter King’s story has been torn apart by “Dead Spin” and other media outlets, and rightfully so.  A bunch of low level…

STELTER:  Do you feel that it was bad…

BRAGMAN:  — and non-…

STELTER:  — journalism to use anonymous sources like that?


STELTER:  Was it bad journalism?

Because we’ve seen other stories like it this week, also.

BRAGMAN:  Well, the bad part, to me, was he didn’t even try and ask them to go on the record.  He said, well, we’re going to do this anonymously.

I think as a journalist, you want to try and go on the record first.  And there were some very low level anonymous sources.

And then Peter King followed up with a second piece where he had somebody who had quote, unquote, never heard of Michael Sam, who, by the way, is the defensive Player of the Year or co-defensive Player of the Year in the SEC, the strongest league in football, looked at his tape and said, oh, I don’t think he’s that good a football player, which is just crap at this point, because Michael was MVP on his team, uh, the AP.  The coaches, people who know the league, know the play, saw him as a very competitive football player.

Let Michael be Michael, let Michael play football, and let’s judge him on that basis and get rid of the rest of the other talk, which is mostly low level homophobia really masked by other words, like distraction.

STELTER:  Well, that — that’s a pretty big allegation…

FLYNN:  But, you know, how…

STELTER:  — Daniel, do you feel like this is how — is this — you’re not feeling like this is homophobic, do you?

FLYNN:  No, I mean Howard says let’s judge him on the — on the basis of his play on the football field rather than who he dates.  And and I — I think that’s a very reasonable request.

But it’s almost Howard, you know, he — he wants to have his cake and eat it, too.  The only reason we’re talking about Michael Sam, the only reason Michael Sam is on the cover of “Sports Illustrated,” is because he’s gay.  It’s not because of his — he’s a good football player.  The only reason the first lady of the United States is publicly praising him, it’s not because he’s the second coming of Lawrence Taylor, it’s because he’s gay.  The only reason Michael Sam’s agent is saying that — that, um, he has Fortune 500 companies banging down his door, trying to pay Michael Sam all sorts of money to endorse their products isn’t because he’s going to be an all-pro NFL player, it’s because he’s gay.

So to say that we should judge him on the football field, I mean be careful what you wish for.  People are judging him as a football player.  My sense is, like Howard, he is going to hook on with an NFL team.  He’s that good of a player.

Um, but, you know, he’s — he’s a late round NFL pick.  And there’s not too many late round NFL picks that you see on the cover of “Sports Illustrated” before they even get drafted.

The only reason we’re having this conversation is because Michael Sam is gay.  It has nothing to do with his performance on the football field.

So when Howard says let’s judge him based on how he plays, Howard’s not doing this.

Why — why does he expect anyone else to do that?

BRAGMAN:  Let me clear up a couple misconceptions.

First of all, we don’t know when he’s going to be picked.  You can say he’s late round.  The last 10 top defensive players in the SEC have been picked close to first round, second round, third round.

The second thing is, Michael Sam did not have a choice in this.  His choice was in coming out ahead of the stories that were going to out him.  Um, I’m very clear on this.

Michael was out as a player in Missouri.  People in the local papers there, people at “Sports Illustrated” and other publications knew.  This was something that was going to break inevitably.

What I find painfully sad is we think of Jackie Robinson and we think of the fact that, you know, many years ago, people said he can’t play because he’s black, it’s never going to work.

And yet, there were some courageous people in sports who said, we want the best players possible and we think this guy is one of them.

Sports has fallen behind.  We’re 2014.  We have a gay congressman, a gay senator, uh, we have people running Fortune 50 companies who are openly gay.  We have gay people on every level of our society except gay men in the big four professional sports.

They’re behind the eight ball on this issue.  As “Sports Illustrated” noted on the cover, America is ready, is the NFL?

The NFL has lots of problems.  They need to clean up their act.  And I think they understand that.  And their embrace of Michael Sam shows that they get this.

STELTER:  Well, Howard, thank you for coming on and sharing your experience this week.

Daniel, thank you for coming on and sharing your column, as well.

BRAGMAN:  Thanks, Brian.

FLYNN:  Thank you.