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Crane operator's picture of Michael Sam tribute goes viral

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 | 7:01 p.m. CST; updated 8:14 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Virgil Jeffery photographed the name "Sam" that someone carved into the snow of Faurot Field, after Michael Sam made public he was gay. Jeffery took this photo from the crane he operates while working on Memorial Stadium's renovations.

COLUMBIA — The trick to talking to Virgil Jeffery is catching him when he's not 200 feet up in the air in a crane at MU's Memorial Stadium.

That's exactly where he was when he took the picture of the name "Sam" on MU's Faurot Field, which has now gone viral. That's where he's spent much of the past 22 years working as a crane operator. Currently, he is working on the stadium's renovations.

Jeffery, 48, was working before sunrise Monday. But, even in the darkness, he said he could spot footprints in the snow all around the northern end of the field. So he took out his cellphone.

"I looked a little closer and saw the 'A' and looked to the left and saw the 'S,'" Jeffery said. "I thought, 'That says Sam. That must be for Michael Sam.'"

It was a tribute to the former Missouri football player who recently came out as the first, openly gay man to vie for a position in the National Football League, and whose story became national news Sunday.

Jeffery snapped a quick picture in the near-darkness and uploaded it to Facebook, thinking his friend Zach Paul, chief meteorologist at KRCG, might be interested.

He took another picture around 10 a.m., posting it again to Facebook. This time Paul responded and then tweeted the picture.

"Your photo just very well made Mizzou history!" Paul said to Jeffery in a Facebook message.

In the span of a few hours, the photo was picked up by national media outlets including BuzzFeed, CBS Sports, Huffington Post, Fox Sports and Yahoo Sports. BuzzFeed's post had 8,900 likes and more than 1,000 shares Wednesday night.

"I guess it's gone, what you'd say, viral," Jeffery said between chuckles.

Sam responded to a similar picture. In a tweet, he said, "This gave me chills. Love you guys."

Even with all the attention, Jeffery said he doesn't deserve any recognition. He's as nonchalant about the whole thing as he is about being up hundreds of feet in the air.

"I just took a picture," he said. "I wish we knew who actually came up with the idea."

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.


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