Zavala at the Zou

Confessions of a Pissed off Reporter: Michael Sam

He stood on the balcony, looking down on the handful of reporters interviewing his teammates. He waved to one player, cackled and pointed to another. It was Mizzou football’s Monday media day, in the heat of Missouri’s swelteringly successful football season. At that point, Michael Sam was averaging more than a sack per game, honored with the SEC’s weekly defensive award three weeks in a row, injecting himself into the discussion as one of the best defensive players in the country. He had so much to do with Missouri’s defensive production, but he, apparently, didn’t want to talk about it.  Instead he looked onto us over a balcony, as if we were a tank full of sharks, waiting to devour him.

That Monday was like most Mondays during the 2013 regular season. We were told a scheduling conflict- a class- kept Michael from participating in Missouri’s weekly media session. We would catch glimpses of him as he stood on the balcony, before and after the senior meetings that took place on the 2nd floor of Missouri’s athletic complex. Sometimes we watched as he strolled through (without any sense of urgency) the clusters of interviews taking place in the atrium, on his way to “class.”

As each Monday passed, the local media’s curiosity grew. That’s the interesting part about silence.  Silence causes us to think, analyze, discuss, predict, and sometimes share information with one another. By the end of the regular season, anyone who covered Mizzou football knew Michael Sam was gay.

I had known about Michael’s situation since his red shirt freshman year in 2010. I was still in college at the time and we shared a fair amount of mutual friends. I never thought the story would be “broken”, I never tried to pursue the story simply because I figured it would be Michael’s story to tell when he was ready to finally tell it. My colleagues- as more and more of them learned about his situation- held the same belief. This was a story unlike any other, but one for which we could not be aggressive.

Mondays became comically frustrating. Michael moseyed through media days without comment, his accolades building, his name plunging deeper into the All-American discussion, and we couldn’t even talk to him about any of it. Fans started asking why he wasn’t speaking with the media. Regional and national reporters didn’t understand why Missouri’s best defensive player was so taciturn. Michael being gay wasn’t even our main interest for interview; it was his success as a defensive end, the impact he made during one of the winningest football seasons in program history. We wanted to talk about football.

After the semester ended and Mizzou began preparing for the Cotton Bowl, the team’s spokesmen could no longer use “class” as an excuse for Michael’s absence on media availability days. Michael spoke to the media for the first time after practice Tuesday, December 17th- five months after media began meeting with football players on a regular basis. We had five months worth of questions, five months worth of football to talk about, five months of what-the-hell-Michael-why-haven’t you-done-a-single-interview-until-now.

As the nucleus in a cell of media, Michael described himself as “outgoing”. Not a tenth of a second passed before I blurted, “If you’re so ‘outgoing’, then why haven’t you talked to us!?” Michael said he wanted to focus on school and football without distractions. I went on that day to ask several of his teammates if they thought talking to the media was a distraction, all of which, in the end, said no.

What was even more infuriating about Michael’s soundlessness was that he never had a bad experience with the media, wasn’t ever really ripped for anything, especially on the local level. Other teammates of his, who did indeed have bad experiences, and true cases for perceiving the media as distracting (James Franklin, for example) were still doing interviews.

Although all members of the local media knew he was gay, we all avoided asking him anything that might invade his privacy when he finally made himself available to us. We followed essentially unwritten rules to help guard his privacy, all collectively sticking to the belief that it would be Michael’s story to tell, no one else’s.

Michael told his story February 10th from the mountain peaks: ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and the New York Times. I’d like to think there was a collective exhale from the Mizzou athletics community and its reporters. My colleagues and I looked forward to telling a piece of history in American college athletics. For most of us locals, however, that wouldn’t be the case.

We are still waiting to talk to Michael Sam.

I wanted to write this post when I initially found out Michael Sam’s publicist, Howard Bragman, was shooting down interview requests from everyone in addition to local media. The excuse for not talking was similar to that of the one he used leading up to the Cotton Bowl: He wanted to just focus on football. I held off on ranting. I figured after the NFL Combine and Mizzou Pro Day (two of his highly publicized obstacles before the NFL Draft), he would be ready to talk to the local media, the same group that covered him before he was the SEC’s defensive player of the year, before he became a figure in American football history.

I was furious when Mizzou sent out its Pro Day Release, the words “HOWEVER, I have confirmed with Michael Sam’s publicist that he will not be doing interviews” in its final paragraph. I truly believe there is proper etiquette associated with handling someone’s privacy as much as there is dealing with those who helped maintain that privacy. The fact that Michael Sam would not be practicing that etiquette, would not be reciprocating us with just ten minutes of his time, was absolutely enraging.

I emailed Bragman the night before Missouri’s pro day, asking for clarity on this situation, how the local media that covered Sam long before he was even his client, could be denied access. Bragman responded:

“If you have followed the Michael Sam story and read the background stories of how it happened, how it unfolded the way it did, etc., I think you will find very clear responses to your questions.
I have been nothing but clear and upfront.  Michael and his team have chosen to focus on football and not the media.  It’s that simple.
I hope you’re feeling enlightened.”

In response to Bragman’s email, I told him the local media followed all the rules to make Michael’s situaton anything but a distraction. We wanted to talk to Michael about FOOTBALL, it was that simple.

Bragman’s reponse?

“Peace.”

Pro Day was comically frustrating. The sighs grew louder from his former teammates as they were asked questions about the player that would not talk to us. Subtle eye rolls and short answers surfaced as they were asked about their former teammate. I sympathized with their frustration, because the true storyline of Missouri’s pro day was no longer “Fifteen Mizzou Players are NFL Hopefuls” but instead, “One Mizzou Player Still Refuses to Talk After Telling the World He is Gay.”

It’s hard to keep my blood from simmering. I share this sentiment with my colleagues, all who are frustrated by the circus Michael Sam and “his team” have inadvertently created by withholding him from local media. Michael Sam wants to be treated like every other football player going through this process, but every other player going through this process is talking to the media. Interviews being a mandatory part of life in the NFL, Michael Sam will bring an even bigger parade to the team that drafts him. Going almost another three months without speaking to the media, the media will have three months worth of questions.

On the contrary, Kony Ealy made himself available to the media at pro day and every single day leading up to it and after. He constantly tweets about articles, radio and video in which he’s participated. And, oh by the way, Ealy is a first or second round projection.

There are hundreds of players who will probably get drafted before Michael Sam, most of who- like Ealy- probably don’t see the media as an earth shattering “distraction.” Talking to the media is a part of the process, part of the norm that is associated with going to the NFL. Once Michael Sam deviated from the norm of this process, he automatically made himself a distraction.

But, the most mind-boggling part of it all?

Michael not talking to media seems so out of sync with his character. This is the guy who sat at the front of the Joplin relief bus, asking Dave Matter about the book he was reading. This is the young man who took my microphone, said it was his American Idol debut, then sang on camera. This is the man who fearlessly gathered his entire football team and told them he was gay. This is the pioneer who stared into television sets across the world, declaring he wanted to be the first openly gay player in the NFL. With such a fearless, unrelenting personality, why is he so afraid to talk to us? Does he really see us as the sharks that could potentially devour him?

We are human. We were human enough to resist invading his privacy. We were human enough to feel happy for him when he told his own story, human enough to be inspired by his courage. We are human enough to feel proud that he stood up to society’s norms and expectations, still on track to pursuing his dreams while shattering stereotypes. But we are also human enough to recognize how ridiculous it is that he doesn’t want to continue sharing his story with the people who began telling it.

.

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Zavala at the Zou

Bud Sasser Gets MTV Air Time

It’s been five months since Bud Sasser’s super publicized touchdown pass at Georgia, eight weeks since his last televised catch at the Cotton Bowl. But by way of reality TV, Mizzou’s senior starting wide receiver found a way to get supplemental face time in the offseason. Literally.

On the March 5th episode of MTV’s ‘The Real World EX-PLOSION’, Sasser’s mug was featured in a 20 second clip, video chatting with his childhood friend and cast member, Thomas Buell.

“I figured at some point I’d get a cameo, at least I was hoping I’d get one. I think I got a little lucky,” Sasser admitted at Tuesday’s football practice.

Sasser and Buell originally met at Woodrow Wilson elementary school in Denton, TX

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and the two have been friends ever since.  As life long friends, Sasser and Buell have supported each other’s endeavors. Buell was a part of the Bud Sasser cheering section as Missouri beat Oklahoma State in this year’s Cotton Bowl. Sasser watches the Real World EX-PLOSION every Wednesday night. His twitter feed can be found littered with commentary on Buell’s latest Real World antics.

“The first time watching him on TV was unreal because he always wanted to act,” said Sasser.

Buell’s bio on MTV’s website describes him as a “troublemaker by nature” who “loves to create conflict by coercing his friends into doing obscene things.” Sasser denies being convinced to ever do anything obscene by Buell. “I’ve definitely seen him in action, he definitely tries to get things stirred up if the opportunity comes up.”

Buell has been given an opportunity to stir up many things as a cast member on one of MTV’s most popular reality shows. Real World EX-PLOSION takes place in San Francisco, where seven strangers live in a house together for an extended period of time. After new relationships formed between the strangers in the house, the most recent ex-boyfriend or girlfriend of each cast member moved in. On the show, Buell is currently in a love triangle between his fellow cast member Jamie, and ex girlfriend Hailey. To watch Buell in action and potentially see more Sasser cameos, the show airs Wednesday nights on MTV at 10/9pm central time.

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Mauk Aids in Battle Tougher Than His Own

***This story originally was posted in March, thought it appropriate to repost with his success this season***

Maty Mauk is fighting to be Missouri’s next starting quarterback.  His teammZavala-Mauk-1-225x300ates on offense first list his arm strength as the attribute helping his campaign.

“He’s got a really strong arm, one of the strongest arms I’ve ever seen coming out of high school as a freshman quarterback,” said wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. With his skilled arm, Mauk managed to break national high school records in passing yards (18,932), pass completions (1,353) and touchdown passes (219). Although the initial praise went to his arm, his teammates did not overlook his legs. His ability to run helped Mauk rack up 22,681 yards of total offense – also a national record- as a dual threat quarterback in high school.  “He’s fast, he’s quick, he makes good reads. I think he can be unstoppable,” said offensive lineman Evan Boehm.

Teammates say fierce competitiveness is the intangible characteristic facilitating Mauk as a candidate for the starting spot.  Boehm recalled a day at the Mizzou Recreational Fields this past summer.  “We were just messing around playing football with random kids. When we lost, Maty was so mad, like ‘What the-!? Why did we lose this game?!” When asked if this combative behavior was the typical trait of a quarterback, his teammates all said it’s just a typical trait of Maty.

“Even when we’re playing X-box” began Boehm, “And I get a kill on him (and I’m not very good), he gets so angry. His competitiveness comes out. That’s what makes him a good quarterback, always competing, always wanting to do his best.”

Mauk’s inspiration to be the best at anything comes from someone amidst a fight much tougher than the fight to be a starting quarterback of a football team. His driving force comes from someone who has neither a quarter of the arm strength he displays at practice nor the leg strength to even stand. Mauk met Drey Dearing when he was in first grade. Mauk was a manager for his father’s football team in Kenton, OH while Drey hung out on the sidelines as a very young, honorary member of the team. Mauk says this is the last time he remembers Drey being active and still having the ability to run around.

Drey has muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that weakens muscle strength. Before Drey reached his teens, he completely lost his leg strength and was conformed to a wheel chair. By the time Drey reaches his early twenties, he will be fighting for his life.

“Growing up, me and all my best friends looked after him,” said Mauk. “I’d do anything for that kid. That’s what drives me.”

“Once Maty gets to talking about Drey you can tell it means a lot to him,” said Boehm. “I’ve never seen him talk or care about one person the way he does for that kid.”

Drey is now a sophomore at Kenton High School. Although he and Maty are separated by hundreds of miles, Maty keeps Drey around Missouri in the form of a t-shirt. A picture of the two is plastered on the front while a bible verse is typed on the back.

Shortly after the end of Missouri’s final loss to Texas A&M, the conclusion of a lackluster, non-bowl eligible season, Mauk got a call from home saying Drey’s health was getting bad.  Drey had already broken his legs twice and was beginning to have trouble eating because of his lack of strength. Mauk made arrangements to go back to Kenton a week before Mizzou’s scheduled winter break.

Back in Kenton, aside from hanging out and playing video games, Mauk said he drove Drey to and from school, brought him lunch and sometimes spent the night at his house.  “I did whatever he wanted to do.”

“Maty’s break was not a comfortable retreat” said his roommate and wide receiver Levi Copelin. “I gained a lot of respect for him.  Drey is like his brother. When his brother wasn’t doing well, Maty was the first person to be there for him.”

Gary Pinkel, who participates in Coaches to Cure Muscular Dystrophy each football season, says Mauk has a lot of compassion. “He’s got a good heart, a big heart. He won’t forget that guy and go on. He’ll be friends with him forever.”

Mauk says he looks forward to the Black and Gold game to not only display the progress he’s made in the quarterback competition but because he will have Drey as extra motivation in the stands.  Drey will aid in Mauk’s fight for the starting spot similar to the way Mauk has helped Drey in his own physical battle.

“Ever since I’ve known him, I’ve wished I could’ve traded him places” said Mauk. “He’s always been the biggest fan of mine and I’m a big fan of his.”

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Columbia Bars Carrying Mizzou-Murray State Football Game

As of 4pm Thursday, the following bars have told me they plan on showing Missouri’s game vs. Murray State on Pay-Per-View:

Downtown: 

Harpos

Bengals

Campus

Shiloh

Billiards on Broadway

International Tap House

McNally’s

South of Stadium Boulevard:

Buffalo Wild Wings

Stadium Grill

D. Rowe’s

1839 Taphouse

Southside Pizza & Pub

West Columbia:

Truman’s

Sports Zone

I’ll update this list as bars make their final decisions on whether or not they’re carrying the game.

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The Past Six Months

Something many of you didn’t know: I’ve spent the last 6 months working part time at a hospital here in Columbia.

Before I started working there, I was wrapped up in superficialities, bogged down by life’s “problems”; a recent college grad and sports reporter struggling to find a job, an employer, a purpose. I was dealing with an internal battle fueled by rejection and the frustrations of an unstable life.

When I started working at the hospital, I met patients..people..-HUMANS- who actually had problems. People affected by terminal illnesses, cancer, life changing accidents, distressful family issues, no family at all, years and years of health complications all came in and out of my life every morning, only to show me that my problems aren’t problems at all. I realized the battles in which these people are forced to fight are much, MUCH more difficult than my own.

Working at the hospital showed me the greatest form of currency is not so much money as is it is the willingness to help. Working at the hospital showed me true strength is defined not by how much weight a person can lift but by how positive of an attitude he or she can maintain when hope seems out of reach. Working at the hospital showed me the most incredible people in this world are not those who are famed because they possess a rare talent, but those who selflessly do everything they can to make a difference in other people’s lives.

Working at the hospital changed my perspective.
Working at the hospital changed my attitude toward everything.
Working at the hospital showed me my purpose.
Working at the hospital changed my life.

Tomorrow is my last day as an employee at the hospital. Because I am so incredibly grateful for my experience there, I’ll begin volunteering there next month. Sometimes all it takes is getting a little lost in order to find your path. I can’t repay the hospital enough for helping me find mine.

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Pictures from the Knoxville Trip

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I was most amazed by how nice and hospitable the staff was at Neyland stadium. The highlight of the stadium is -hands down- the Peyton Manning funded locker room. It’s probably the nicest looking locker room I’ve ever seen.

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Gainesville Trip Goes Downhill

Gainesville was incredible. Although we didn’t have enough time to experience much of the night life or the popular restaurants, I was still amazed at the beauty of this Florida campus. I’m a sucker for palm trees, tons of sunshine and perfect weather. Besides all the live shots and lugging of equipment, it almost felt like we (Kamen, Marty and I)  had driven seventeen hours to a vacation spot. Our hotel (Days Inn in Starke, FL) was clean and had a brightly colored exterior. It was 80 degrees every day, an escape from the chilly Columbia, Missouri weather. We were trying new things (Kamen and I ate alligator) and eating a food usually mistrusted in mid-Missouri: fish. While Marty and Kamen worked on their live shots, I drove up and down University avenue, admiring all the night life and the amount of options UF students had from which to choose to spend their Friday nights. With so many things to do besides go to class, I asked myself how on earth anyone graduated from this school.

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium looked incredible from the main entrance on University Avenue. Palm trees accompany you down the walkway into the glass front of the almost 90 thousand seating capacity stadium. Statues of UF Heisman Winners on the side of the stadium (Tebow, Spurrier and Wuerffel) posed in a couple of our pictures. Butterflies flapped around my stomach Friday night as I dreamed up of what the inside would look like along with what I’ve seen on TV from previous Florida games played in the Swamp. I liked how the stadium was planted inside of campus. I pictured pools of orange and blue flooding through campus streets on Saturdays as fans filed into the stadium. I loved every second of being in Florida that Friday night.

But Saturday would be ncredibly disastrous.

I don’t know exactly when the Gainesville trip downfall started. Perhaps it was pre-game when the map on the back of our parking pass led us to the wrong place to park and three different police officers led us in three wrong directions. We didn’t get into the press box until 45 minutes before kick-off of the Florida-Missouri game. Perhaps it was during pre-game meal when I discovered I had traces of pancake syrup in my freshly curled hair (girl problems). Maybe it was with 45 seconds left in the 4th quarter of the game when James Franklin threw his fourth interception of the game, resulting in a loss and a handful of mopey football players in post-game interviews for the fifth time this season. Maybe it was because a loud truck was running in the background of all the interviews, messing up all the audio on my twitvids (reporter problems). Maybe it was because we had to skip Satchel’s pizza for live shots on all three shows (6,9, 10pm) on KOMU that night, all three of which were conducted by rookie producers. Two of the live shots were cancelled because Notre Dame’s contract with NBC and careless producing back in Columbia, leaving us with three wasted hours we could’ve been spending eating delicious Satchel’s pizza that STL Post-Dispatch’s Vahe Gregorian raved about from the night before.

Ben Hill Griffin stadium was no longer incredible to me by 11:30pm EST that Saturday night. I was ready to get the heck out of Gainesville, away from the stadium where we had been for what felt like ages. I wanted to shower and rest for the 17 hour drive back to Columbia. As we were packing up the equipment (tripod, a mess of cords, camera, batteries, back-packs), the toughest question of the day is asked: Where are the car keys?

We unpacked everything, we traced all of our steps, looked around the parking lot where the car was parked (about 100yds away from where we were set up for live shots). We looked in bushes, trash cans, in the street. We repeated all of this about seven times until panic eased its way in to our nerves. The keys are impossible to lose, they are designed to not be lost, attached to a big huge blue disc and big black zipper wallet. It was 1 o’clock in the morning and we still couldn’t find them. I was the only one with a phone that wasn’t dead. I texted my mom warning her about the situation, that we might be in Gainesville longer than we expected. These car keys were our only way of getting back to Columbia in the morning. She suggested we call AAA, they could connect us to a locksmith. We exhale.

Marty calls AAA, he paces up and down the block as Kamen and I speak optimistically about the situation. The locksmith will save us, we’ll get back to our hotel and we’ll be back on the road to Columbia in no time. Marty walks away from us as he speaks to the locksmith. When he returns to our spot by the Heisman statues, and with a deflated look on his face, he tells us AAA and a locksmith won’t help us unless we have the registered owner of the vehicle present. This was a massive problem because the registered owner (KOMU) of the vehicle was a thousand miles away. We start to panic.

Marty calls our news director Stacey Woelfel and breaks the news to him. We can’t find the car keys and AAA won’t help us. Marty begins to pace again and walks up the block to continue the conversation with Stacey privately. Kamen and I start to panic, I’m ready to cry. Marty walks back to us, this time with his hands on his head, his face white as the uniforms Missuri wore earlier that afternoon, sweat coming down from the sides of his face. “Stacey said we will have to book a hotel for the next two nights and one of us has to fly back to Missouri tomorrow with the satellite backpack so that it’s there in time for election coverage on Tuesday. Stacey will FedEx the keys on Monday.”

My eyes welled up with tears. Gainesville was no longer a beautiful place. The palm trees were masked by the dark late night sky, it was chilly with the sun nowhere to be found and now we were going to be trapped here forever. The three of us sat in silence, panicked silence, until I saw a cop turn on to a street just north of the stadium from where we were panicking. With no shoes on (my boot heels destroyed my legs by midnight), I ran a block toward the police to get his attention. I beg him to help us find these keys, that we will be stranded here for an extra few days if we can’t get into our car. He immediately starts helping, using his flashlight and walking around the outside of the stadium. A half an hour into the key search accompanied by cop, I look up 24 hour locksmiths in Gainesville. My plan was to sweet talk my way into convincing one of these locksmiths to make us a key, even though not a single one of us owned the car.

I call the first one listed, a groggy middle-aged sounding man answers. I introduced myself to this man who I had clearly woken up. I tell him the story, tell him how we’re stranded, how we’ll be trapped in Gainesville if we don’t get into this car and get a key made. He asked for the make and model of the car and asked if we were ready to pay some money. I quickly said yes and he assured me he’d be out front of the stadium in 20 minutes. I exhaled into the phone and told this complete stranger I loved him about about forty times before we hung up. I run to Marty, Kamen and the kind police officer and giddily let them know that AAA is full of crap and a locksmith is more than willing to help and will be there soon. We all hug in excitement and the police officer wishes us safe travels back to Missouri.

Infront of the Heisman statues, The three of us laugh and slap-happily discussed the disaster of a night we’ve endured. Bronze Tebow, Spurrier and Wuerffel laughed at us and this horrific night. As I’m recanting my conversation with the locksmith to the boys, a strawberry blonde, younger looking, slender man walks up to us. As he walks toward us, asking if we’re with KOMU, I spot the car keys, the big blue disc, the black zipper wallet, all in his hand. We all freak out and bombard this man with a million questions about where he found the keys and when. He claimed to have found them in a trash can over by the parking lot where the car was parked, the same place Marty had scanned over and over throughout the night. I was suspicious about this guy but didn’t care too much. The keys were found and we would be on our way back to Columbia in just a few hours. This incredible disaster of a day was finally over.

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