Other areas of mid-Missouri react to Michael Sam announcement

Thursday, February 13, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:56 a.m. CST, Thursday, February 13, 2014
Larry and Leah Sullivent relax and eat lunch at the 63 Diner on the north side of Columbia. The Sullivents said they knew of Michael Sam's story but added that they "could care less" about his announcement that he is gay. They also said they are 100 percent opposed to homosexuality.

COLUMBIA — It’s nobody’s business.

It’s a sin.

It’s great.

Who cares?

Cast a net around mid-Missouri and you’ll find lots of opinions about the news this week that MU senior Michael Sam would likely become the first openly gay football player in the NFL.

Since Sunday, the president and first lady have congratulated Sam and his teammates, coaches and MU athletics department officials have applauded him.

But what do everyday people — cashiers and veterans and plumbers and truck stop workers — have to say? The Missourian sent 10 reporters in search of their stories:

Columbia Senior Center

It is almost bridge time at the Columbia Senior Center and few people are inclined to delay their games to discuss the week’s big news. Andrea McMillen, 65, wipes the corners of her lips and takes a moment to state her opinion with a sense of finality. She has short-cropped blond hair and wears a sparkly, nubby scarf to brighten her black sweater.

“Sexual orientation should have nothing to do with an athlete’s ability to play,” she says. “I commend Michael Sam for all that he has endured.”

Others begin to join in.

“My reaction is that there is too much reaction,” says Vickie Lanes, punctuating her comments with orange Doritos pinched between dark, polished fingernails. “What is the big deal? I can bet that there are some golfers who are gay.”

“It is just ridiculous,” Mary Rackers says. Her pink sweater and Barbie-pink lipstick contrast with the bluntness of her declarations. “I am tired of it.”

Joe Miller has stepped outside for a cigarette. His opening comment sounds almost rehearsed. “If you can’t do anything to me or for me, I don’t care. If he stays within societal boundaries, he’ll be fine.”

What does he mean?

“Just don’t hurt anybody.”

A moment of silence and then he leans in conspiratorially. “However, not everyone’s gonna feel that way,” he says, taking a puff. “The NFL’s gonna have a problem.”

— Contributed by Atiya Abbas

Breadeaux Pizza in Boonville

BOONVILLE — It’s 11 minutes to closing time at Breadeaux Pizza on a still Monday night. The brightest lights around are the stoplights at the intersections. The loudest noise is the door chime that signals brisk air rushing in as the last customers head home.

Kylie Hohensee sweeps the floor in wide, fluid motions, as she does at the end of every shift. Like many rural Missouri kids, she was raised in a Christian household and went to church on a regular basis. But at 16, she has formed her own opinions about homosexuality.

“I hate that people use my religion as an excuse to tell people what to do,” she says as she leans on her broom. “I mean, why is it any worse to be gay than to judge people for being gay?”

Her friend Holden Hinkle, 20, sits at a nearby table and sets down his slice of pizza. “Yeah, who cares if Michael Sam is gay?” he says.

Hinkle says that their parents often scold them for the way the younger generation lives. “But, at least I think, we have to make up our own minds about what we think is right or wrong,” he says.

— Contributed by Emily Adams

63 Diner

At the 63 Diner on the northside of Columbia, Larry and Leah Sullivent are finishing the last of their lunch: a BLT and a country-fried club, barbecue sauce on the side for the fries.

Leah, 54, isn’t a football fan but says she quit volunteering with Soldier’s Angels, the organization that does sewing and knitting to donate to troops, when the military decided to accept gays.

“I'm not ignorant,” she says. “I know they've probably been in there since Valley Forge. But now it's all in the open. My problem is, before the eyes of God, it's wrong. They don't understand that there are people who don't accept them. But we have to accept them? I don't think so!”

Larry, 62, says he has lost interest in football over the years. He’s sick of all the scandals and the general lack of morals.

“If I were running a team, I wouldn't want any of those guys on it,” he says. And when it comes to homosexuality, he said, “I'm 100 percent against it. It's not normal.”

The couple stress that they don't wish gay people any harm, but they don't want to know anything about their sex lives. 

Leah says that societal changes don't matter. “In the end, the person they're going to have to answer to is the Lord Jesus Christ. Not to me, not to the president, and not to anyone in football. But to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

— Contributed by Miranda Metheny

Midway C-Store, Interstate 70

From his spot behind the convenience store counter, Trey Chisholm exchanges a few pleasantries with a customer: “How are you doing, driver?”

The woman responds in kind, her black beanie and blue-collared shirt signifying her status as a bus driver for Greyhound.

“I’m making it, I guess,” Chisholm tells her as he rings up her snacks for the evening ahead.  

“You know what?” she replies. “That’s all we can hope for, right?”

Chisholm, 22, has been working full time at Midway C-Store on I-70 for almost a year now. He’s on a first-name basis with his regular customers, and he’s got smiles to spare for everyone who comes through the door. If former Missouri football player Michael Sam walked in, he would be welcomed wholeheartedly.

“He’s still a human being,” Chisholm says. “His preferences shouldn’t affect whether or not he gets drafted.”

Chisholm says he doesn’t understand why some men like other men, but it doesn’t bother him.

— Contributed by Tess Catlett

VFW, Columbia

Tuesday is bingo night at the VFW, but not everyone is interested in filling the cards. Two men ignore the game to stay at the bar. They’ve followed the news of Michael Sam and dive into a brief debate.

“I think it’s his right to live his life,” says Dave Beem, 62. As surgeon for the post, Beem regularly visits members who are in the hospital.

Post commander Don Briggs, who is working behind the bar tonight, has a slightly more complex view.

“I’m a Baptist. It says in the book, you don’t do that,” says Briggs, 73. “But if he plays football and he’s a good football player, then let him play.”

The club’s volunteer cook, Fred Cole, overhears the discussion and walks over to join in.

“He’s put the NFL in a really bad position,” Cole, 63, says.

Cole and Briggs both speculate whether Sam timed his decision to increase his chances of being drafted in the early rounds.

“If he wants to make a platform out of this,” Briggs trails off, “that’s not right.”

Beem counters: “I don’t think there’s any ulterior motives.”

“It’s bullshit if he’s not drafted and then he files a discrimination lawsuit,” Cole says. “I have no problem with any of it, be it black, gay, whatever, unless they get special treatment because of that fact.”

Beem counters again.

“I don’t think he would do that,” Beem said.

Then Briggs puts a cap on it for all three of them: “It’s gotten so far-blown out of proportion.”

— Contributed by Ashley Crawford

Lucy's Bar & Grill, McBaine

McBAINE — Country music plays over the speakers at Lucy’s Bar & Grill as three patrons agree to disagree over Michael Sam’s public coming out.

Clad in sweatshirts, tan Carhartts, boots and baseball caps, they have bought each other bottles of Bud Light and share pictures of the 7-foot icicle a friend had pulled off a nearby barn earlier that evening.

Now Steve Squires, Chris Moore and Alan Jarman take a moment to debate the week’s top local sports story.

“I think it was very brave of him to come out and do it,” Squires, 34, says. “In today’s world, I don’t even think it should be a story. He’s good at what he does. Who am I to judge the guy?”

Moore, 32, agrees.

“Gay, straight, it don’t matter,” Moore says. “He’s a hell of an athlete.”

Moore played linebacker when he was a student at Missouri State University, then went on to play semi-pro for the Columbia Trojans and the KC Shockers. A knitted cozy with a Mizzou tiger on the front keeps his Bud Light cold.

Jarman, who at 53 is a bit older than the other two, has a different take. “There are supporters and nonsupporters,” he says. “I would be a nonsupporter.”

Jarman chalks up his discomfort with homosexuality to age and a conservative upbringing.

But Squires pushes back: “He was essentially the best defensive player in the country. If he doesn’t get drafted, what’s that going to look like for the league?”

The debate stays friendly. Squires, Moore and Jarman say they’ve known each other for as long as 20 years and have disagreed just as long.

— Contributed by Tracey Goldner and Hannah Baldwin

Walmart in Mexico

MEXICO, Mo. — This city has produced two NFL players: Jason Brookins, who played with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, and defensive end Howard Kindig, who was drafted in 1964 in round 13 and went on to play for the San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.

Richard Herndon, 46, is at the Mexico Walmart to get a Valentine’s Day present for his wife.

“You’d be surprised how many football players are gay,” he says. “Now he’s out, probably a lot of others will be coming out.”

Herndon, who has a gay brother, says he believes it takes more courage to come out than stay in. And the fact that Sam is African-American will make openness even more possible.

“It doesn’t matter what community it is,” Herndon says.

Mike Easter, 65, came in for shampoo. He’s retired from drawing bridge plans for the state. He says he doesn’t hate anyone, but thinks Sam needs help and worries his public declaration will make other athletes think homosexuality is OK.

“I think it’s an illness that should be treated,” he says.

Jack Newell, 64, on the other hand, says Sam has “just as much heart” as anyone. Newell wears a Kansas City Chiefs jacket.

“Tell (Michael Sam) I say go all the way to K.C. to play,” he says.

— Contributed by Ally McEntire

Snoddy's General Store

NEW FRANKLIN — Chuck Hammers didn't think much of it when he heard on “Good Morning America” that Michael Sam was gay.

Hammers, 48, is a plumber and has stopped at Snoddy’s General Store in New Franklin  on his day off for a two-liter bottle of Sprite.

"The whiskey's chilling outside," he jokes with another man at the check-out counter.

The white linoleum floors are smudged with dirt and scuff marks from tough-soled shoes. Big Smith overalls, nine-pound slabs of ribs, nearly 20 different brands of tobacco, electric deep fryers and six-pound cans of sweet corn are nestled within the store's aisles. There's a deli in one corner where the lunchtime crowd can buy sandwiches for $2.50 apiece. Pickle loaf, liver cheese, roast beef and smoked turkey are among the options.

Hammers and his family live in Boonville toward Columbia. He has two sons. One is a freshman at MU, and the other is a freshman in high school.

"I don't want my kids to be gay,” he says. “But if that's something they did, I guess I could understand it.”

Hammers' parents never talked about homosexuality. But Hammers' best friend's brother was gay — the only gay man Hammers would ever know, he says.

"We teased him a bit. Nothing was meant by it. He was a friend."

Then, Hammers says, "I packed him into his grave." The friend died of AIDs at age 25. That was in the late 1980s.

"He was a great guy," Hammers says. "He was just gay."

— Contributed by Madeline O'Leary

Ecco Lounge, Jefferson City

JEFFERSON CITY — Tuesday night at Ecco Lounge in Jefferson City means families settling in the red booths set against red brick walls. They’re celebrating anniversaries or maybe just settling in for a few winter hours in a warm building. A night at Ecco means bartenders and waitresses rushing to fill glasses and conversations.

Tattoo artist and California, Mo., native Shawn Pope stares ahead at his empty beer glass with its frothy remains. His brightly tattooed arms rest on the bar as he considers Sam’s news. Pope doesn’t mind talking about Sam, but he doesn’t think sexuality should be discussed in terms of his upcoming NFL draft.

“Honestly, I didn’t want to see some of the negative responses, so I didn’t even look into it," he says, as he closes out his tab and leaves for the evening.

A waitress speeds and sets two glasses in front of the soda fountain. As she fills the glasses, she says she doesn’t want to talk about Sam. But she has opinions and shares them anyway, with one hand perched on her hip as the other places a lemon slice on the edge of a glass.

“I don’t run around saying, ‘I’m heterosexual, I’m heterosexual,'” she says. “So, I think it’s a drag when somebody brings this up. I know it’s a popular subject, but it’s not a big deal. Just live with it. I am.”

— Contributed by Hilary Weaver

Lizzi & Rocco's Natural Pet Market, Columbia

Lizzi and Rocco’s Pet Shop’s employee Andrea Ward can tell you what to do when your cat gets fleas or what dog food is best for a dog on a diet.

She can’t tell you anything about sports, but she says she can relate to Michael Sam's struggle to tell everyone he knew a part of him he had previously been concealing.

Ward defines herself as queer and a part of the LGBTQ community.

“In the end, all Michael Sam has done is say, ‘Hey, this is who I like, but I am also an athlete, and this is what I have to do to be myself.’”

— Contributed by Rickelle A. Pimentel

Supervising editor is Jacqui Banaszynski.

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Michael Williams February 13, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.

Let me make sure I understand, Missourian.

You have the resources to send 10 student reporters into the hinterlands, investigating community reactions to Michael Sam.

Yet, you've apparently NOT sent one single solitary student-or-otherwise reporter into the community so they could report back on local reactions and details for the ACA???? Where are the interviews with hospital administrators, insurance agents, students, business owners, gov't officials, and the like? Where's the articles on the impact of BJC (i.e., our own Boone Hospital) NOT being in the Anthem Blue Cross ACA programs, meaning if you want to go there you can, but you have to pay higher deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses?

In a town where insurance and medical care are 2 of the 3 biggest legs of our economic engine.

I can only conclude one of two things (or both): (1) You don't think your student reporters have the background or "smarts" to understand the ACA, or (2) You don't think you'll like the answers.

The Missourian is an "advocacy rag" for special interests, but not a newspaper.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 13, 2014 | 7:34 a.m.

@ Michael Williams:

While I share your concern about lack of reporting on ACA you need to remember that the Missourian has consistently and habitually FAILED TO BRING US REGULAR NEWS FROM THE OTHER THREE UM SYSTEM CAMPUSES, WHOSE COMBINED STUDENT ENROLLMENTS NOW REPRESENT MORE THAN HALF OF ALL THE STUDENTS PRESENT IN UM SYSTEM.

Maybe that too is a situation where someone is afraid of that the results would turn out to be. But what could there possibly be to be afraid of?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 13, 2014 | 8:06 a.m.

Ellis: The ACA is just the most recent example.

For the 43 years I've been around here, the Missourian has steadfastly remained a mouthpiece for local advocacy groups. That's another term for "special interests", in this case, the narrow interests of students and faculty at a major university. You'd think that was more the function of the Maneater instead of a college dedicated to creating new journalists.

Does the faculty at the Missourian ever TELL a student what to report on, even if it hurts an agenda to do so? Or do students just get to "wing it" and report on whatever the hell the special interest-du-jour is at the moment?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 13, 2014 | 11:07 a.m.

@ Michael Williams:

I have no problem with the Maneater; I know of no student or alumnus from UMKC, UMSL or MS&T who has a problem with the Maneater. The Maneater does not pretend to be something which it is not.

Recently you questioned whether journalism students receive enough instruction in courses other than those given in the journalism department. Actually, courses that are not in journalism form the majority of the journalism curricula. My daughter holds a degree in broadcast journalism from a well-known public university*, and as a result I have some familiarity with journalism curricula: pretty much the reverse of ABET engineering curricula, which are far more restrictive (that is, more confined strictly to technical matters).

The broader knowledge presented by the journalism curricula is SUPPOSED to give students broader knowledge of subjects and situations. I question whether that truly materializes. There is only so much one can learn in a university clasroom setting (and that includes engineering as well).

*-I refuse to divulge the name of the institution which granted daughter her degree. Why cause unnecessary pain and anguish? :)

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 13, 2014 | 11:43 a.m.

Ellis: I'm having trouble wrapping my head around these seemingly conflicting sentences:

"Actually, courses that are not in journalism form the majority of the journalism curricula."


"The broader knowledge presented by the journalism curricula is SUPPOSED to give students broader knowledge of subjects and situations."

Are the students not paying attention? Not taking diverse things seriously?

I have appreciation for your "more confined strictly to technical matters" comment. The greatest gift my grad school adviser gave me was refusing to allow me to specialize ONLY in biochemistry. Lawdy, he had me enrolled in all sorts of stuff, and at the time I didn't like it much. Wow, did that diversity of knowledge help me later in life where I had to deal with a variety of people, each of which had knowledge and interests different from me. I can say with authority that when someone is discussing their work/ideas with me, blank looks of ignorance on my part were not helpful to the conversation (or business).

Better to know enuf to at least hold up your end of the conversation.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 13, 2014 | 12:11 p.m.

Ellis: Here's the freshman/sophomore class choices at MU journalism.

Click (on the left) freshman/sophomore years, then click on general ed requirements, then click on the plethora of courses available to satisfy general ed requirements.

But, what I would REALLY like to see is a breakdown of what those students ACTUALLY took over the last 10 years.

But...hey...I could be wrong.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 13, 2014 | 2:43 p.m.

First, the requirements and explanation you've cited look pretty much the same as those in the journalism catalog when my daughter enrolled in broadcast journalism at the unnamed university more than a quarter century ago. I am not at all surprised at that; the ABET curricula for Ceramic Engineering (Metallurgical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, etc.) have changed little in the past 3o years.

Not a problem - provided the curricula are still relevant. If not, BIG problem. In Engineering education ABET establishes curricula, not the individual engineering schools. (ABET is an NGO.)

I have no problem with the j-school concept of exposing students to a wide variety of subjects; that makes sense. But the presumption seems to be that having done so the student really knows something about the subject. AT BEST THE STUDENT HAS ONLY BEEN EXPOSED. That's all that should be presumed.

BTW my daughter spent time at rinky-dink TV stations until she discovered that the way to turn a journalism degree into some money was to use her formal education toward getting into something other than journalism per se. There are several ways to use the degree.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 13, 2014 | 4:41 p.m.

Ellis: With one exception, my experience with young reporters is that they are burdened with preconceived notions rooted in politics and other agendas learned who-knows-where.

Many won't even believe their lyin' eyes.

Virtually all do not understand science, have no interest in science, and believe science taught by the internet. Assuming they even take a decent science course in college, they remain internet-trained.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 13, 2014 | 9:44 p.m.


There are probably few long-time members of the scientific, engineering or business communities who don't have at least one horror story where some reporter, after having matters carefully and fully explained to them in an interview, turned around and absolutely "butchered" things in print or broadcast news.

And those disasters didn't necessarily involve rookie reporters.

It would be helpful to have that particular j-school course deleted, whatever it is officially called. :)

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 13, 2014 | 10:42 p.m.

Ellis: "And those disasters didn't necessarily involve rookie reporters."

Indeed. Especially when you remember that each rookie reporter (or experienced one, for that matter) has at least one supposedly-more-knowledgable editor behind him/her.

Actually, I can understand why reporters do not allow sources of subjective material to read stories in advance and make corrections. After all, the interpretation is subjective.

But, science (objective) facts?

No excuse for getting facts wrong.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 14, 2014 | 8:16 a.m.

Well, Michael, it could be that the Fourth Estate finds matters concerning science and business incredibly boring. Such matters can be boring, you know.

Contrast them with being tasked to report on some football player who has just come out of the closet*, or the latest adventures of a member of the Kardashian family, and you'll realize just how boring science and business really are.

Now I'll open up a can of cat food and enjoy breakfast.

IS there any hope for the future? I'm feeling very depressed this morning. Maybe it's the cat food.

*-That couldn't happen at UMKC or UMSL because neither campus has a football program; if at MS&T the entire football team announced they were gay and they paraded down Pine Street dressed in flaming pink, it probably wouldn't garner mention in the Missourian. :)

(Report Comment)

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