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Gay NFL Prospect Going Public; Michaela's Search for Her Father; 150-Plus Oscar Nominees Do Lunch.

Aired February 10, 2014 - 11:30   ET



MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Is the NFL about to get their first openly gay player? That's the question after Michael Sam, a defensive end from the University of Missouri, came out over the weekend in interviews with both ESPN and "The New York Times."

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: He was a first team all-American, named the top defensive player in the southeastern conference. He is expected to be picked somewhere in the middle rounds of the NFL draft in May. He is a big guy, 24 years old, 6'2", 260 pounds. He has guts of steel. He told ESPN he is going public because he wanted to own the truth.


MICHAEL SAM, GAY NFL PROSPECT: I told my teammates this past August that I came out to my teammates and they took it great. They rallied around me. They supported me. I couldn't have asked for better teammates.

This is something that I've known for a while. This is, to me, just telling another person that, hey, I'm gay. It shouldn't be a big problem.


BERMAN: Joining us now from Los Angeles, a key player in this, Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of He is a leader in gay sports, news, photos and videos. Also joining us now, another leader, four- time Olympic champion, Greg Louganis, the best diver of all times, I'm not afraid to say. Greg is also gay. Came out in the '90s.

I want to start with you, Cyd. Because you have been speaking to Michael Sam for months. You helped him with this process of going public. How did it all unfold?

CYD ZEIGLER, CO-FOUNDER, OUTSPORTS.COM: Let me be clear. I have been talking to his team for about three weeks. That's when this really started taking off. He wanted to live his truth. He hired a couple of agents who understood that, who had compassion for him and didn't try to tell him no.

I think a lot of agents are the problem with athletes coming out. They don't want to risk their investment. These guys got it, and they hired a publicist who got it, the best in the business, Howard Bragman. I have done coming outs with Howard before. Howard kind of brought me in and together we crafted a plan of how to do this.

PEREIRA: Greg, I want to talk to you about something I think is resonating with a lot of people, that he really wanted to be the driver in this. He wanted to come out with this story himself. He wanted to be the one that said, I am gay and not have somebody else do that for him. I'm thinking about you and the era you were active in sport, being gay. Tell us about what a difference it must be from that time to now.

GREG LOUGANIS, OLYMPIC DIVING GOLD MEDALIST: It is a totally different time. I came out in '95 breaking the surface. We weren't quite sure how things were going to pan out. I had friends and family that were afraid for my safety. But it was really liberating. I was able to speak my truth. Now, we have had Matthew Mitcham come out prior to the Olympic Games; an Olympic gold medalist from Australia. We've had Tom Daley come out about his sexual orientation. And it was met with -- it was really embraced. There was very little criticism.

But it is a huge thing when you are talking about a team sport. In a team sport, you need the support of your players. This is something that is so encouraging to hear Michael say that he had the support of his team and his team was behind him, because you don't achieve greatness on your own. And it is wonderful. It is great. And it is commendable. I am so proud.

We have come a long way. The true marker is going to be, is he going to get those endorsements? Get those sponsors. Support this guy.

BERMAN: Well, he is getting a lot of support from high places right now, including from the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. Let's read her tweet here. She says, "You are an inspiration to all of us, mikesamfootball," his Twitter name. "We couldn't be prouder of your courage both on and off the field." Signed, "M.O." That means Michelle Obama.

Cyd, Michael says he wants to play football, pro football, and he wants to be drafted. And I assume, like every other player, he wants to be drafted high. There is a serious question now that since this news came out overnight that his draft stock has fallen. "Sports Illustrated" spoke to a number of personal in NFL who say they will look at him differently now. has him listed lower than they did before. Has he made his situation worse in terms of the NFL draft?

ZEIGLER: That's ridiculous. These front-office people who say that the team might be somehow harmed by him, too much of a distraction or media circus. Every NFL team is trying to get to the biggest media circus in the word, the Super Bowl. If a front-office executive cannot figure out how too keep the team focused around a few extra cameras and some questions about someone's sexual orientation, they should resign.

It is totally absurd that a front-office executive would point to somebody's sexual orientation and say, that could unravel a team. If that's the case, then the team has the wrong leadership. I guarantee you, the New England Patriots, New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens, the San Francisco 49ers, the model franchises in NFL, are not thinking that.

BERMAN: His job is getting to make the team, not making them regret the fact that he passed on him.

PEREIRA: You hear people talk about him, that he is a beast on the field and a leader. The guys speak in glowing terms when they talk about him.

I'm thinking, Greg, how far away do you think we are when we can just call Michael Sam a great football player and not an openly gay football player.

LOUGANIS: When it is going to come down to is performance. As long as he is performing, the whole gay thing is going to go away and he is just going to be an athlete. I am looking forward to the day we see these people just as people. Your sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with your talent as an individual, whether you be a dancer, a diver, a football player, no matter what it is.

BERMAN: The quarterbacks and running backs in the NFL are going to be ready to meet Michael Sam. They may be on their backs after he has tackled them. That is his ultimate goal.

Greg Louganis, Cyd, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

PEREIRA: And a whole other discussion to have is locker room. We have to talk about the reality. Because, right now, a lot of people are very excited about this and what it means and the headlines. And, of course, there are people that think this is too much and that they are not ready for this. We know that not everybody is in lockstep about this. But the locker room reality is going to be very --

BERMAN: It is. But there is a fact on the ground here, which is that he has been playing for a full year --

PEREIRA: Sure has.

BERMAN: -- with one of the best teams in the country here. We know it can work.


BERMAN: And it can work in the NFL, too.

38 minutes after the hour.

Several years ago, the woman sitting next to me set out on a search for her biological father. This is an amazing story.

PEREIRA: Look at my family.

BERMAN: What Michaela found was unexpected and irreplaceable. We will tell you this story, next.


BERMAN: Sometimes in life, we search for something and end up finding something better. That happened on an amazing scale for the person next to me. Michaela wrote a piece in "Essence" magazine about searching for her biological father. I want you to look at one line she wrote. She wrote, "So much of who I am on the outside, my skin color, eye color and hair, is because of my father. My identity is inextricably tied to a man I do not know."

This is a touching, touching piece.

PEREIRA: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: I want to talk about this search for your father. Why was it so important to you to find out who he was?

PEREIRA: It is really interesting. My family is full of adopted kids. My parents, Doug and Ainsley Thompson (ph), adopted five little girls in the '70s. Adoption has always been such a big part of our family. It's been a reality. It's never been a mystery.

There we are. Horrible picture, but there we are.

BERMAN: Ah, the '70s.

PEREIRA: The '70s and the '80s. So you can look at us and know that we obviously knew that we were different. I always sensed that growing up.

I decided to look into my family in my 20s. I realized we were much like a tree. That while the tree outside of the ground may be very healthful and strong and growing upwards, the root system beneath the ground, if it is not stable and strong, it threatens the integrity of the tree. So I decided to look into my history.

BERMAN: So often we hear these stories and people have reconnections. They develop a life-long relationship with their birth parents they never though they had. This didn't happen here?


BERMAN: You reached out to your father and got nothing in return.

PEREIRA: Adopted kids deal with rejection. I have that issue. I have rejection issues all day long. I actually reached out to find anybody. I found out a year and a week too late that my birth mom had died following a six-year battle with colon cancer. In that devastating dark cloud, I found a wonderful silver lining in the form of a half sister I didn't know I have. I have a new sister in my family.

Her name is Marney (ph). That's her. Don't we look like twins? We have the same nose. She lives on the outside of Toronto. It has been wonderful to get to know her. She helped me realize I needed to look into the potential of finding my birth father. He is not open to that. And that was a whole series of painful realizations for me.

BERMAN: You took a positive lesson from that which was what I love so much. You said, "I've come to a new understanding. Maybe God is protecting me from an unhealthy relationship."

PEREIRA: Yeah. I've had to really look at -- you always look to make lemonade out of lemons. My parents, who I have to credit with this," has really helped.

Can I show a picture of then?

Doug and Ainsley are the most amazing human beings. They were Brad and Angelina before Brad and Angelina. They gave the five of us, who were by society standards, throw-away kids, a new opportunity. And I love those people beyond measure.

BERMAN: I have never heard human beings speak of their parents as much as Michaela Pereira does. She shows pictures.


BERMAN: Look at my parents. Look at my parents.


PEREIRA: They are truly the most amazing people. They are the reason I can sit here and talk about this, because we have to shine a light on it for all the kids out there who, like me, they need the support.

BERMAN: We should all be as blessed and lucky as you.

PEREIRA: I feel ridiculously blessed.

BERMAN: When we come back, poolside at the Beverly Hilton Hotel --


BERMAN: -- ahead of today's big Oscar lunches. More than 150 nominees will attend. But they are not the only ones. Our Nischelle Turner is there.

PEREIRA: She has a plum assignment. Does she get to meet Bradley Cooper?

BERMAN: Not just meet him.


She will join us live coming up.


BERMAN: It has to be nice. Oscar competitors are gathering for champagne and chitchat. It's the annual Oscar luncheon hosted by the Academy.

PEREIRA: An exciting week but this sort of kicks it off. More than 150 nominees expected to attend.

The lucky girl at poolside.


PEREIRA: The one and only, Nischelle Turner. She's in the Los Angeles sunshine. I'm so jealous.

First of all, I want to talk to you about this thing that I think is the coolest part of this luncheon, the photo. The group of all the nominees together. I think that's neat.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: It is. It's like the class photo, the class reunion. But first of all, let me say something first. Congratulations, you guys.


TURNER: I tweeted this earlier this morning. I said, "Like, peanut and butter, like peas and carrots, and ham and burger. Two great things that go great together."


TURNER: I love it. Congratulations on the new show.

And you're right. You know, the class photo, it's kind of the who's who of Hollywood. When you see it all together, does take your breath away. Wow. All of these people together in one room.

I have to tell you all something, because I am poolside here at the Beverly Hilton. I didn't really want to do this shot with you all today.

PEREIRA: No, you wanted to drink a martini.

TURNER: There is a reason.


Well, no, because I didn't want Jeff Zucker to know that I'm stealing money from CNN today, being poolside at the Beverly Hilton.


This is a plum assignment.

Now, we're here early. You see they're just starting to set up, because the Oscar luncheon itself doesn't start well until lunch time, still before 9:00 in the morning here in Los Angeles. So what happens is you have every star and every third hand to the second assistant that are nominated for an Academy Award.

They all come together for this lunch, fellowship with each other. You get to know people you might not know in Hollywood, that you've nephew met. It's definitely -- I know, it's the chance that the biggest A-list actor could meet the second assistant on a movie. It's really kind of cool. And all the big celebrities will be here today. Think of somebody, just think of anybody who is nominated for an as core.

PEREIRA: Meryl Streep.

TURNER: Yep, they'll be here, hopefully. Meryl Streep, there you go.


BERMAN: Martin Scorsese. Leonardo DiCaprio.

Nischelle, will they be chitchatting and campaigning leading up to the Oscars? What's got the biggest buzz right now?

TURNER: Well, that's a good question. I don't know if it's so much campaigning, because this is the friendly fire day. You just get together and hang. So there's not a lot of that going on. But, you know, they come down, and I stand here, and I wave at people, like please come talk to me. And we do nice sit-downs and talk about everything, the movies, the careers and all of that good stuff. It's a chance for them to really kind of celebrate their accomplishment. It's one of those type of days. It's just a fun day. It's a good day. There's really not any issues that go on at the luncheon.

PEREIRA: Yeah, yeah. And it's warm, and it's Los Angeles, and your poolside.

BERMAN: Go back to the pool.

PEREIRA: And she is going to have a banana split beside the pool.

BERMAN: Nischelle Turner, great to see you.

TURNER: How much would you give me if I just ran and cannon-balled?

PEREIRA: Cannon-balled. Absolutely.

BERMAN: I would give you $1,000 if you do that right now.


PEREIRA: Nischelle, this is going to be great.

BERMAN: No takers. All right.

PEREIRA: And we're going to be watching these Oscars. We'll have coverage for you right here on CNN. Nischelle and I will be a part of that. We're very much looking forward to it.

From that to this. Speaking of film --


PEREIRA: Not quite as high-brow. If you can't get enough of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's drunken rants, don't worry, there is still going to be Rob Ford, the movie.

BERMAN: Blue Ice Pictures is making a film from a Toronto star reporter's book called "Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story." Good title. The movie's producers say they will get into the Ford family's history of substance abuse and bad behavior. And despite all that, the film revealed they are one of the most ambitious families in all of Canada. You hear that? Canada. It's your fault.


BERMAN: Often, of course, the Fords compare themselves to the Kennedys in the U.S. We'll look forward to that. Perhaps Oscar fodder for next year.

PEREIRA: I don't know about that.

BERMAN: When we come back, we get serious. I'm talking about cable outrage. I'm talking about a national disgrace and it involves dogs. Winners and losers. And my message to the Westminster Dog Show people. Outrage, when we come back.


BERMAN: All right. In New York today, it is the world-famous Westminster Dog Show. And with that, I would like to shine the spotlight on a serious matter that requires national attention and, frankly, a healthy dose of cable outrage. This is the situation. You know what dog is the most popular in America for the 23rd straight year?

PEREIRA: The labradoodle.

BERMAN: No, the lab. The chocolate lab, black lab, yellow lab. America loves our labradors. Golden retrievers, too, fourth-most popular. They fetch stuff, they farm, they hunt, they bark, they wag their tails. They are dogs with a capital "D."

PEREIRA: I hear your outrage.

BERMAN: You know what dog has never won best in show?


BERMAN: No, the lab! The lab has never won. The golden neither. No retriever, not once, not ever. Instead, they award Scottish terriers, this terrier, that terrier. Often pincher, Pekinese, even a Bichon Frise. Think about that. These animals with their curls and their frills. These animals are cute, sure. They fit nicely on your lap, absolutely. But where I come from, we have a name for cute animals that fit on your lap.


BERMAN: Where I come from, we call them cats. And this is the Westminster Dog Show. So at this hour, I call on Westminster to end this outrage. Allow labs and goldens, not just in the public square, but in the winners' circle. End this war on labs.

PEREIRA: Preach it, brother.

BERMAN: Thank you.

PEREIRA: Feel better?

BERMAN: Look, I want the show to do well. That's cable outrage. That's cable outrage right there.

PEREIRA: Can you get outraged every day?

BERMAN: I can work on it. Not sure if I can get that mad.


We can't thank you enough for watching the very first AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Michaela.

PEREIRA: The reason it's called Berman and Michaela is because nobody knows his first name. In all serious, everyone calls you Berman.

BERMAN: My wife calls me Berman.

PEREIRA: So that's why it's called AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Michaela. I don't recognize myself as Pereira.

BERMAN: No. You're Michaela.

PEREIRA: You're Berman.


PEREIRA: We just figured that was earlier.

BERMAN: We also figured if they said with Berman and Michaela, it would be hard for them to find replacements for us.

PEREIRA: Yes. You know what?


PEREIRA: You might have something. Boom.

BERMAN: We got it.

PEREIRA: You better now?

BERMAN: You have Cuomo filling in, he can't be Berman.

PEREIRA: Ooh, you touched on a sensitive subject.

Hey, if you want to connect on Facebook -- see how I averted disaster? Please do. It is You can tweet us as well.

This has been really great. Thank you so much for joining us right here AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Michaela.

BERMAN: "Legal View" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right now.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, and welcome.

We are in Jacksonville, Florida. We live at the case of Michael Dunn. And you've been watching this for the last several days. This is day four of testimony in a case that has not only this community watching very closely but the rest of America watching closely, as well, because, of course, there are so many parallels that bring us back to the memories of the Trayvon Martin case, and the stories of race and the stories of stand your ground