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NFL Drafts First Openly Gay Player; Crisis in Ukraine; Activists Pressure Nigeria to Rescue Girls; Search for Pilot in Balloon Crash to Resume

Aired May 11, 2014 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the 249th pick of the 2014 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams select Michael Sam, defensive end, Missouri.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: An historic moment. Michael Sam becomes the first openly gay player to be drafted by the NFL. We've got the reactions, including a special congratulations from the president.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: And we now know two of the victims who died in that hot air balloon crash. This morning, the recovery is under way for the third victim.

BLACKWELL: Also it's voting day in eastern Ukraine. Pro- Russian separatists decide whether they will declare independence from Kiev, but will the controversial referendum launch the region into civil war?

Your NEW DAY starts now.


CABRERA: Doesn't that Michael Sam get you and make you feel good this morning?

BLACKWELL: It does, it's got to make you feel something.

CABRERA: What a way to start Sunday, Mother's Day. Good morning and happy Mother's Day. I'm Ana Cabrera, in for Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: Happy Mother's Day to you.

CABRERA: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Happy Mother's Day to Christi. Happy Mother's Day to my mom.

CABRERA: To my mom, both of them.

BLACKWELL: To everybody, because we'd be here all morning. I'm Victor Blackwell, 6:00 here on the East.


And as we've showed you just a moment ago, Michael Sam is making history, shattering barriers, becoming the first openly gay football player taken in the NFL draft.

CABRERA: Now, he was a first team all-American from the University of Missouri. Also, SEC co-defensive player of the year. He was chosen late in the seventh and final round by the St. Louis Rams.

BLACKWELL: Now, the historic moment was cheered from St. Louis all the way to the White House.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the 249th pick of the 2014 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams select Michael Sam, defensive end, Missouri.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): With that announcement, Michael Sam becomes the first openly gay player drafted by the National Football League.

He got the news by telephone from the Rams head coach Jeff Fisher who told him, "You are a Ram. The wait is finally over."

For the All-American defensive end from Missouri, it was an emotional moment.


MICHAEL SAM, RAMS 7TH ROUND DRAFT PICK: I am overwhelmed. I'm excited and I'm proud to be a Ram. I knew I was going to get picked somewhere, and every team that passed me I was thinking how I'm going to sack their quarterback.

BLACKWELL: Congratulations came from the Oval Office. In a White House statement, President Obama said from the playing field to the corporate board room, LGBT Americans prove every day that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are.

The NBA's Jason Collins who became the first openly gay athlete in any of it the four major American sports when he came out in 2013 tweeted this comment, "I wanted to say congrats to @MikeSamFootball and @StLouisRams. Great pick. Good luck."

Meanwhile, the Rams' head coach says it's time to get to work.

JEFF FISHER, HEAD COACH, ST. LOUIS RAMS: He's done an outstanding job dealing with things and I believe he's prepared to discuss the situation and then get on to football and helping us win.

BLACKWELL: And St. Louis Rams fans want could not agree more. They want to see Michael Sam hit the field. Last season, the team finished 7-9 and the bottom of the NFC West.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has a chance now, so he's got to prove himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he'll make a good player for the Rams. They need somebody like that.

REPORTER: Will he be a distraction?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think so. I don't think so. He's a good player. So I think he'll prove himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next step is just to play some football. It's time to shut up and play some football. We need him.


CARTER: So much to talk about.

Joining us now is Joe Carter.

Joe, what a big moment in history and to see Michael Sam's reaction, it just makes everybody smile.

JOE CARTER, CNN SPORTS: I watched that reaction last night as it came down and the live feed coming from somebody's house in California, I think he was with his agent but that was a powerful moment, I really, really liked that moment.

But, you know, this is unprecedented. It's historic but I think the NFL is very much ready for this moment. They had several months to prepare for this. Obviously, Michael Sam came out in February so they've had months to prepare. This is not a surprise.

And even before Michael Sam came out, there were some discussion, there were some reports that had come out that there was going to be a group of current NFL players that were going to come out together so that the pressure could be taken off one player.

For whatever reason that didn't happen, in addition to knowing that and Michael Sam came out in February and having months to prepare and they've also watched the NBA. Jason Collins came out last summer. It's been almost a year they've watched the blueprint the NBA has set out.

Jason Collins, number 98 jersey, the top seller on Jason Collins plays for Brooklyn Nets. They're in the playoffs. There's no reported incidents from fans or from players since Jason Collins came out.

BLACKWELL: And the game continues.

CARTER: Absolutely.

BLACKWELL: The game continues.

Now, let me ask you about what happens as we move forward, because yes, he's been drafted, this makes history but he also has to now make this team as he moves forward. What are we expecting in the locker room, during training camp?

CARTER: Yes. Well, he's going to have some OTAs, and then, he's going to go to training camp in August. I expect in August it's going to be a media frenzy. This will be the biggest story to start the 2014 football season.

But if I'm the St. Louis Rams, if I'm the head coach and the general manager, I'm going to put Michael Sam in front of the media one time. I'm going to let him address the media at the start of training camp and address everybody from "Good Morning America" to TMZ, and then I'm going to pull Michael Sam back in the locker room and make it all about football and not allow him to talk to the media again until the 53-man final roster is set, OK? That takes away the distraction factor.

This is a good landing spot for Michael Sam, the St. Louis Rams, not only from a football standpoint, but also from a geographical standpoint. Missouri, where he went to college, it's only two hours from St. Louis, the University of Missouri.

People in that area familiar with who Michael Sam is, they support him on and off the football field. And from a football standpoint, it's very good for him defensively.

So, I really like it. I think it's a great situation, congratulations to Michael Sam and to the St. Louis Rams.

CABRERA: And you know what's really cool this is not the first time the Rams have done something like this, making history. Back in 1946, that's when the Rams made history, drafting the first African- American in modern times to the NFL. So, here they go again.

CARTER: And think about that now. We think, wow, they drafted the first black player. That's not a big deal anymore. Think about 10 years from now, we're going to look back in this time and think, well, that wasn't that big of a deal at all. Can't believe that was not big of a deal.

So, good to see you guys.

CABRERA: Joe Carter, thanks so much.

Look at this hail. There was a tornado, lots of cleaning up in Orrick, Missouri, where a twister left behind plenty of damage. Officials say 80 percent of the town near Kansas City was affected after that tornado tore through yesterday.

Law enforcement officials are still going door to door checking on residents there. You can see them here pulling a woman to safety. This is what's left of her home. There's some damage.

Right now, a lot of this whole area is without power because there are so many downed power lines.

BLACKWELL: CNN meteorologist Alexandra Steele joins us now.

Good morning to you, Alexandra.

Do we know if the threat is over?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The threat is not over. Let me show you some more video, too. Northeast of Kansas City, in Orrick, kind of the hot spot yesterday.

Look at this storm chaser video, look at this, they're saying a big -- look at the massive tornado and when you watch this roll, look at the bottom right hand of your screen, and you could begin to see all this debris being blown around with this tornado. So, an awfully scary day yesterday. The threat does exist once again today for some long track tornados.

So, here's the area of concern today. Kansas, Missouri and Iowa, similar setup as yesterday. Right now, this is the area of concern, pretty quiet, no watches or warnings as of yet.

All right. This is what we saw yesterday, 11 reports of tornadoes, wind 49, some incredibly strong wind, 91 reports of hail. You saw on the video golf ball sized hail. There were reports of tennis ball-sized hail to boot with this storm. So, an incredible amount of energy and incredible amount of uplift

Here's the severe setup today once again. And right along this warm front and also the dry line. This is where we're going to see the most severe weather again expected today. Hottest hit areas today Kansas City down to St. Angelo.

So, once again, you guys, another threat for a big severe day, long track tornadoes, hail and some very strong winds.

CABRERA: You'll stay on top for us. Alexandra Steele, thanks so much.


BLACKWELL: An historic today, rife with controversy. Happening right now in Ukraine, as voters head to the polls, even Russia says it's condemning this vote.


ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Did the Nigerian military know a Boko Haram attack was about to happen or did they do nothing at all? I'm Isha Sesay, live in Nigeria with this exclusive report.

Ana, back to you.

CABRERA: And back here in the States, the search for a missing pilot resumes today as investigators dig deeper on that balloon crash in Virginia.

BLACKWELL: But, first, we want to wish a happy Mother's Day again to all the mothers out there.

CABRERA: And all morning long, we will be playing greetings from our troops who can't be with their mothers today. Happy Mother's Day to all of you hard-working moms and we certainly love our moms and salute those who are overseas.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. My name is Staff Sergeant (INAUDIBLE), currently serving at (INAUDIBLE) air base, Qatar. I'm here to say thank you to my family and say happy Mother's Day to my mother, (INAUDIBLE). Thank you for your support and hope to see you soon.



BLACKWELL: Thirteen minutes after the hour.

And right now, pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine are lining up at the polls in the city of Donetsk for a controversial referendum vote to separate from the country's interim government.

CABRERA: And there's only one question on the ballot. Do you support the act of independence of People's Republic of Donetsk?

Now, leaders in Kiev and the West are calling this vote illegitimate. Many worry today's results could push this country one step closer to civil war.

BLACKWELL: And for weeks, Ukraine has been plagued by deadly clashes. We reported on them here between pro-Russian militants and Ukraine security forces.

CNN's Atika Shubert joins us live from Donetsk, Ukraine.

And give us an idea of the turnout.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, turnout as far as we can tell, has been quite high. The official numbers from the self- declared Donetsk People's Republic is about 30 percent so far, and, of course, we still got about ten more hours of voting. And we have seen a lot of people showing up since this morning, dozens and dozens just in the last few hours or so here at this one polling station.

So, it does seem to be going ahead this vote. But is it an accurate representation?

I want to quickly show you the ballot box behind me here, so you can see they're transparent. Most people don't even bother to fold their ballots so you can see the yes votes at the bottom there, and the flag that you might notice at the front of the ballot box, that's the flag for the Donetsk People's Republic. They, of course, are the ones who organized this hastily put together referendum but, of course, they obviously want a yes vote as well.

So, is this an accurate representation, one that's verifiable? Probably not. But for many people here, it's already a foregone conclusion. They know what the answer to this referendum is going to be. They want to know what happens next.

CABRERA: And, Atika, I understand the Russian television channel there is telling people where to go to vote and yet Russian President Vladimir Putin has said let's delay this vote publicly. That's what he's saying.

Do you think that's really just to save face? Is he and Russia supporting what's happening there?

SHUBERT: It's really hard to know. I do know that reaction here was initially quite baffled when Vladimir Putin came out saying that the referendum should be postponed. They went ahead and pushed ahead with that vote here.

So, clearly, there is that sort of momentum here. It's really hard to see how many people want independence because as we can see it's a flawed process. We do know from talking to people is that they're angry and they've very fearful that the government in Kiev has not been able to resolve this conflict peacefully and that they have unable to stop the violence, that is their main concern for now.

CABRERA: And what happens next is the next question.

All right. Atika Shubert, thanks so much.


CABRERA: Right now, Nigerians are taking to the streets in protest, demanding their government do more to bring home more than 200 girls kidnapped from their school nearly four weeks ago. This on the heels of a startling report that Nigeria knew in advance about the kidnapping and yet did nothing.

BLACKWELL: So, that's happening in Nigeria.

Saudi Arabia's highest religious figure condemns the terror group that's taken responsibility for the mass kidnapping. He says Boko Haram is, quote, "set up to smear the image of Islam."

Isha Sesay is in the Nigerian capital.

Isha, what's the latest on the international efforts to find these girls? We know that there are U.S. representatives trying to advise the Nigerian government. Where are they now?

SESAY: Hi there, Victor and Ana.

I think that's the key point you made there, they're here to advise the Nigerian government. The Nigerian government still very much in the lead in this investigation. Here really and now understanding is that these early days, the focus is having meetings and really assessing the Nigerian military's capabilities and trying to identify where the gaps are in those capabilities.

The teams that are here have expertise in hostage negotiations, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, that's the kind of critical expertise that a brought on the ground that they hope will provide this turnaround in this operation that can lead to a break- through in ultimately locating these girls and bringing them home.

You're absolutely right, there has been growing clamor in this country and around the world as people continue to shout loudly that the government must do all it can to find these girls and bring them home -- Victor.

CABRERA: Isha, obviously today is Mother's Day, our hearts even heavier for these families who have to be going through so much pain right now as they wait anxiously. How are these girls' relatives holding up?

SESAY: It is a desperate time for these families. It's almost hard to put into words when you're in a room with these affected family members, just the feeling you get. They are so desperate. They are so fearful.

I spoke to a father who lost two daughters in this raid, two daughters were taken off by Boko Haram in that raid on April 14th. He told me, Ana and Victor, all they do in his home is cry. That's all they do now. He also gave us more insight as he has spoken to some of the girls that escaped as to what happened that night.

Take a listen to some of our conversation.


UNIDENTIIFED MALE: They say that we are army, we are going to protect you, don't fear. And from that time, they all got together in one place. There after all, they saw they start burning school. They say these people say they are for us, but see what they are doing. They are not good people. They start to escape or to run away.


SESAY: Two hundred-plus girls taken, still haven't seen since April -- 200-plus girls taken that night. They still haven't been recovered and the international community is here to try and change that -- Ana, Victor.

BLACKWELL: I mean, your heart breaks for them, knowing that they're waiting for something, some answer.

Isha Sesay for us in Abuja, Nigeria -- thank you.

CABRERA: Let's take you to Virginia -- a university mourning two of its staff members killed after that hot air balloon caught fire and crashed. And the government helps investigate what went wrong.

BLACKWELL: We've got the latest on the search that resumes that morning to find the missing pilot.


CABRERA: Welcome back.

The search for a missing hot air balloon pilot is expected to resume shortly. That pilot, of course, is the last person who is missing following the deadly balloon crash at the festival outside Richmond, Virginia. The two other victims have been found and now identified.

BLACKWELL: The University of Richmond says two staff members of its basketball program, Ginny Doyle and Natalie Lewis, were on board that balloon when it crashed into power line Friday night and then burst into flames. You've seen the pictures.

CABRERA: Erin Mike is staying on top of the search effort and the investigation into what happened.

Good morning, Erin.


ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana and Victor, the rest of the hot air balloon festival was promptly canceled and Virginia police held multiple briefings throughout the day Saturday as they comb through this densely wooded area, looking for the remains from this terrible tragedy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are transitioning from a rescue operation to recovery operation at this time.

MCPIKE (voice-over): From a search and rescue mission to a recovery. Virginia authorities confirming the terrifying hot air balloon accident was deadly for the three people on board.

UNIDENTIFIED AMEL: I have a visual of the airborne hot air balloon. It appears to be still smoking, still pretty high in the air.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Got a report that the basket has come off and we're trying to find that right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Advise all units the airborne balloons aren't the issue. We need to locate the basket.

MCPIKE: Authorities say they still haven't located the basket, but retrieved the bodies of two of the three victims and are still looking for the third. Searchers have also retrieved debris and other items that would have been on the balloon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've had tremendous help. We've had probably anywhere between 30 to 40 calls from people who witnessed it from here at the festival on Friday, to neighbors, to people driving within the vicinity and it's been a tremendous help. We've been following up with those folks.

MCPIKE: More than 100 people searched Saturday and civil air patrol assisted, challenging because the basket and balloon separated after snagging a power line and catching fire, leading two of the passengers, witnesses say, to jump or fall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My boyfriend, you know, came right out and he's like oh my God look at the sky, and he's like, the balloon's on fire and all we've seen was stuff falling from the sky, the basket, the balloon, everything was on fire.

MCPIKE (on camera): The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating and the NTSB sent a letter just this year to the FAA suggesting there is insufficient oversight of commercial hot air balloons -- Ana and Victor.


CABRERA: So many unanswered questions. Erin McPike, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Some rough weather this weekend. We were talking about snow potentially in the Denver area.

CABRERA: Denver.

BLACKWELL: Also, a tornado rips through Missouri destroying homes, buildings, power lines there. Storm chasers are catching the destruction and we're going to show you what they found.

CABRERA: And the news, just too much for Michael Sam to handle. The defensive end out of Missouri could not hold back his emotions as he made NFL history.


CABRERA: Hello again. Bottom of the hour now. Welcome back. I'm Ana Cabrera.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell.

Let's start this half with five things you need to know for your new day.