Michael Sam was a first team All-American player as well as top defensive player in the SEC.
Sunday, Feb. 9. That date was familiarized in my brain because of its reference in multiple planners and iCal for my weekend General Assignment shift at the Columbia Missourian. A seemingly sleepy Sunday that started with me flipping through the first 5 pages of the MUPD blotter making sure that there really was not anything for me get a story out of. I then came back to work on a life story of Polly Anna Dunavant that eventually got pushed aside for the life story of Wynna Faye Elbert.
Wynna Faye Elbert worked closely with fellow deceased activist Almeta Crayton and was known for her work with the First Ward, especially Douglass Park and the Blind Boone House. She worked to preserve the history of the African-American community in Columbia and created many programs for them in her position of recreations supervisor for the Parks and Recreations Department of Columbia.
Her story became my priority because of her prominence in the community. I worked to get in contact with some co-workers and friends to get a little taste of her life to put something together to put on the site. The community needed to know.
The ACE desk became my perch for the hell that was about to break loose.
The phone rang. Adam, my Assistant City Editor, picked up as I tapped my rings on my laptop, impatiently waiting to finish my editing session. My antsy pants had come on around 7 p.m. after being there since noon. The click of the phone halted my tapping as Adam told me to go let someone in the north door to the building.
I skittered down the stairs to let in Tom Warhover, our Executive Editor, who greeted me with a “How are you this evening?”
My standard “Decent” was the reply as I bounded up the stairs to return to the roll-y chair on Adam’s right.
The ICE Desk came to life as they all started exclaiming, “Check New York Times, they broke the story. Michael Sam came out as gay!”
Tom started commanding the one sport guy to get his fellow sports desk mates to come in as Sports Editor Greg Bowers bust through the doorway.
Being the crazy football fan that I am, an all too typical “Oh my god!” escaped my lips as Adam flipped back and forth to different tabs to the New York Times story, Twitter and ESPN.
“I don’t even care about football,” he said nervously as he clicked.
“Oh, I do. Football is my thing,” I replied as I freaked out at this strangely familiar sounding news. It felt a little like deja vu to me hearing the words “Michael Sam is gay.” I still can’t place how I knew about it before the blast of news Sunday night, but it sounded too familiar for me to not have encountered this information before.
The rest of the sports desk filled up as Greg and Tom barked orders for people to finish stories that should’ve been done, getting photos from the photo bubble and adding to the django file that had been under construction for awhile.
“They are stressing me out… and I don’t even like football,” Adam repeated as he flipped tabs as Tom threw up the first post on the site.
The cacophony of frantic, near yelling phone calls, mutterings of “fuck” and “shit” intertwined with news terms under bated breath and clomps of salty snow boots back and forth in the room was fascinating as I spaced out from my story. Tom joked with me on his one occasion of using “frickin'” as a replacement.
“Care to comment on Michael Sam coming out?” was the broken record playing as the sports reporters rushed around the room trying to space themselves out from each other to frantically phone interview sources.
“We’ll have Sam on the phone in 30! His agent said we can call him back if he doesn’t call by 8:30!” one of them bellowed talking the phone only ever so slightly down from their ear.
The Mizzou Store had an unfortunately placed banner ad over the the story in the Missourian that Tom was on the phone with the ads guy to try to get taken out. The ad had a football figure that the general public could just use as placeholder for Sam if they felt the need. The main worry was that we weren’t sure if the Mizzou Store would want to be so closely connected to the story right yet, and we couldn’t take that chance.
“It’s your decision, I just have to live with it,” Tom as he hung up the phone.
He turned to me and asked about my story and I told him that it was about Wynna Faye.
“She has done a lot for the community,” he nodded as I explained our rush to get something out for that reason. “Thank you for doing that,” he said. Her story was still important and he slightly apologized for the craziness that might overshadow it.
Sure, I had been in the newsroom for over 8 hours, I had left my Alternative Break Co-site leader without my help for a site meeting, my FiberOne bar was only doing so much to tide me over, and it might be all for nought because my quick little story would whimper in comparison to the package they were completing. But, I didn’t feel sorry for myself (maybe my stomach a bit, and definitely my co-site leader). (I still got a budget shout out for my story).
I got to experience the side of news that I loved. I got to get that second-hand adrenaline and watch a story be pieced together, like a chaotic, timed puzzle. I saw the human side and the mechanical side. It was real, live journalism that I saw.
It was the makings of the storm and the rainbow that broke through the clouds and it was crazy and beautiful.