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Rams Pick Michael Sam, Set NFL Milestone; Crash Killed Two University Staffers; Crisis in Ukraine

Aired May 11, 2014 - 08:00   ET


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Happy Mother's Day on this Sunday. I'm Ana Cabrera in for Christi.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Happy Mother's Day to you, to Christi, to my own mom. I'm Victor Blackwell, 8:00 here on the East Coast, 5:00 out West. This is NEW DAY SUNDAY.

And major history in the sports world and some would say for the country when Michael Sam shattered this new barrier, becoming the first openly gay football player taken in the NFL draft.

CABRERA: And he came with a lot of credentials. First team All- American from University of Missouri. He's also SEC co-defensive player of the year. He was chosen late however in the seventh and final round by the St. Louis rams.

BLACKWELL: Again, this historic moment was cheered from Missouri 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.


CABRERA: That last shot is just a good one.

Joe Carter joining us now.

Joe, of course, sports and professional sports taking a lot of flak lately, a lot of controversy in the NFL talking about crime, the Redskins name.

JOE CARTER, CNN SPORTS: The NBA and Sterling. Our fair share of controversy, for sure. But this is certainly a bright spot, it's a positive spot for the NFL.

For all the negative press they've received lately for minority coaches not being promoted or hired, having these players getting into trouble, arrested and all that off the field, this is a positive moment for the NFL to celebrate.

CABRERA: And a positive moment for the gay community as well, to continuing to go through the boundary.

BLACKWELL: It's that image, if we could put it back, because I think this one, it is important that people who are -- I've been open this. I'm an openly gay man as well. But to see this moment when Michael Sam kisses his boyfriend, this is historic.

CARTER: This moment right now, he's receiving a call from Jeff Fisher, the head coach of the St. Louis Rams. He's learning that his dreams are being realized, that he's getting a call, 1 percent of college athletes make it to the NFL.

And he's able to celebrate that accomplishment openly. He's able to celebrate that with the person he cares about the most. That's why this is historic because in the NFL draft, we don't see this, a man celebrating and casing and embracing another man. It doesn't happen.

We, of course, see men kissing their spouses, girlfriends, mothers. That moment that you just saw is a moment that will be talked about and discussed and will be a turning point for our society moving forward.

CABRERA: You know, the other piece thing about his story, history but also his story, is the fact that he comes from a tough background. He has two brothers in prison. He has a brother who died from violence.

CARTER: He comes from a big family, first of all. Eight brothers and sisters, single mother raised them. Two brothers currently incarcerated, three other siblings are dead. He lived in his car at one point in his life. He moved in with friends during his high school days.

He's the first person in his family to go to college. He joins the 1 percent of college athletes that make it to the professional ranks. Certainly a great story, a lot of adversity. For him, when he takes on that first press conference as a St. Louis ram, answering those questions, that's nothing compared to the adversity this guy has gone through growing up.

CABRERA: And actually, when you said that, it's really interesting to see his tweet and to look back at what he said to the world right after that. He said, I'm using every ounce of this to achieve greatness. That has even more meaning when you learn the back story.

CARTER: Two-forty-nine, I've never seen this much anticipation for pick 249. There's only seven picks ahead of him before the draft ended. So, great anticipation, great moment for the NFL, and I think as society we need to celebrate it for what it is.

BLACKWELL: More work to do, though.

Joe Carter, thank you very much.

CARTER: Thank you.

CABRERA: Well, developing this morning as well, unfortunately, the tragedy in Virginia continues as the search for the pilot still missing after Friday's deadly hot air balloon crash has resumed this morning. The University of Virginia now telling us two staff members of its basketball programs were among the victims, Jenny Doyle and Natalie Lewis were on board the balloon when it crashed into the power lines and it burst into flames. Neither survived.

BLACKWELL: You can see these two University of Richmond coaches there inside the hot air balloon moments after it took off. This is the dark blue balloon you see here, left of center here, in the center of photo.

CABRERA: It was supposed to be a celebratory moment for them. Such a sad story.

Erin McPike is continuing to follow the investigation there in Virginia.

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 now 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 MALE: 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 they have 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: Erin McPike reporting, thanks.

BLACKWELL: There's going to be a lot of cleaning up to do this Mother's Day in the town of Orrick, Missouri, after this. Look.

CABRERA: Hail, a tornado, a huge storm tore through that town of 900 people yesterday. This is near Kansas City, homes destroyed. Lots of power lines torn down. This storm leaving behind a wide path of destruction.

BLACKWELL: Officials now are going door-to-door to check on people who live there. You can see, look at this video, they pulled a woman to safety from what's left of her home. So far, though, no reports of any deaths or any serious injury. So, good news there.

CABRERA: For weeks Ukraine has been inching closer to civil war. And now, pro-Russian separatists are refusing to delay that controversial referendum vote. It is under way right now. Will today's election push the country over the edge?

BLACKWELL: Also, Pope Francis takes to Twitter to send out his prayer for the release of more than 200 schoolgirls still missing in a kidnapping in Nigeria.


CABRERA: Right now, voters in eastern Ukraine are among many making history today. You're looking at pictures out of Slaviansk, where people are lining up to cast their ballot in a controversial referendum vote that would separate this country or this area from the country of Ukraine even during an interim government.

BLACKWELL: Now, leaders in Kiev and the West, they call this vote illegitimate. And a lot of people are worrying that the results could push the country one step closer to a civil war.

CABRERA: So, will today's election trigger more violence?

Let's go straight out to CNN international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh. He's the hub of the unrest there in Slaviansk, Ukraine. Just an amazing situation we've seen developing there.

BLACKWELL: Yes, also want to point that Nick is the only member of the Western media in that area right now. What is it like where you are?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm standing outside a polling station. Earlier today, we saw quite a substantial presence there, lining up to cast their ballots. (AUDIO GA) now, if you look down, they're not particularly full in terms of checks to names.

A lot of people have been turning up here, filling in a form explaining why they should vote here and not somewhere else in the Donetsk region, showing their passports. (AUDIO GAP) potentially a lot of the place here.

But at this point, bear in mind, this is not any kind of formal electoral process here. We're surrounded by the Ukrainian army, the Ukrainian tanks. A shootout last night with heavy weapons, reports of gunfire this morning. Pro-Russian militants all around this area that's on the edge of civil war.

This is really on the edge of civil war here. So, no one really considers this to be about some big public debate to be staying in Ukraine, independent and join Russia. This is really about endorsing what those pro-Russian militants and protesters have been doing here by seizing this town and taking control of it.

There are quite a few people here, quite a lot who support what's happening. That's been hardened by the violence by the army (INAUDIBLE). Certainly inside this booth here, I spoke to the mayor, self-declared mayor of Slaviansk. He was accompanying someone else, a dignitary from the opposition here voting and asked him, look, how come Russian's Kremlin-run TV station 24, which we saw last night, is running along the bottom of its output on the air last night, advice on locations where people can vote.

How is it possible if Russia says it's not involved? (INAUDIBLE) He said he didn't know about that. And reminded me that Vladimir Putin had only days ago said this referendum should be (INAUDIBLE). But it was remarkable for us to see, watching television there, precise instructions locations for how a town would vote in a referendum in Ukraine, that the government here considers to be illegal, but that advice being given out by a Kremlin-run 24-hour news network. Quite remarkable really, and evidence that many in Washington will seize upon, but actually Russia is involved in fermenting what's going on here.

BLACKWELL: Yes, clear contradiction there.

CABRERA: Saying one thing, doing another.

BLACKWELL: Nick Paton Walsh there for us in Slaviansk. Thank you so much.

Pope Francis is now among the growing legion of supporters using #bringbackourgirls. He tweeted, "Let's all join in prayer for the immediate release of the girls kidnapped in Nigeria."

CABRERA: Of course, First Lady Michelle Obama and others have joined this social media campaign. If you can believe it, #bringbackourgirls has been shared more than a million times.

BLACKWELL: First Lady Michelle Obama, as we said, joined into that campaign. She delivered yesterday's weekly White House address saying she and the president are outraged and heartbroken. Those are her words over the mass abduction.

CABREREA: And this morning, our own Christiane Amanpour tweeted out this picture of herself with British Prime Minister David Cameron supporting the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. The British intelligence team is on the ground. They're in Nigeria right now.

BLACKWELL: It joins a team from the U.S. that arrived last week to support efforts to find the more than as we said 200 girls. They were taken nearly a month ago now from their school.

CABRERA: And now, one of the girls who escaped and who spoke exclusively to CNN telling us Boko Haram militants used at least seven trucks to carry out this abduction.

President Obama has directed his administration to do everything it can to help the Nigerians find the kidnappers and return those 200- plus girls to their families.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are times I want to reach out and save those kids and am having to think through what levers, what power do we have at any given moment.


CABRERA: Tough task.

BLACKWELL: Countries around the world are hoping to help in this effort, trying to determine how they can help.

The president was in Los Angeles. But back in Washington, the big question facing members of his party are the Democratic lawmakers. Will they join a new committee created by Republicans to investigate the 2012 Benghazi attack?

We'll check in with CNN's Candy Crowley coming up next. >


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. I'm Private Lombardi Gonzalez (ph) assigned to 226 signal code in Afghanistan. I'd like to say hi to my mom in Garland, Texas, happy Mother's Day. I love you, miss you. I'm doing great, and I'll call you.



BLACKWELL: House Democrats are divided, let's say, about joining a new committee created by a majority of Republicans to investigate the deadly 2012 Benghazi attack.

CABRERA: And while Democrats are arguing, this is just a political ploy to decide what to do about this during a midterm election, but Republicans insists this committee is really a serious effort to get to the truth about the armed assault that took the lives of four Americans, including an ambassador.

Now, let's bring in CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" host Candy Crowley in Washington to talk more about this.

I guess, Candy, but the questions still is kind of -- what are Democrats going to do? Are they going to boycott? What's it looking like?

CANDY CROWLEY, STATE OF THE UNION: Well, you know, my guess would be, and it's simply a guess at this time, they'll show up at the table, because to do otherwise -- I mean, the idea of not going is to try to undermine the legitimacy of the committee and to say, as in all politics, we're in the going to join into this circus.

But it is also to see to the state of the Republicans in this issue, which is something the Democrats don't want to do.

So, I think there will be Democratic representation in one way or the other. Right now Democrats are pushing for some rules to be made, so that they have access to witnesses, that they know what subpoenas are coming, that they have a vote in the subpoenas, that sort of thing.

So, right now, they're trying to use some leverage and say here is what we would like to see in this committee. We'll see if Republicans can agree to it.

BLACKWELL: And, Candy, we also understand you're about to debut a new CNN poll on Obamacare?

CROWLEY: Exactly. You know, Republicans have used the affordable care act as one of the issues that they are out there in this midterm talking about.

Some of they need to repeal it. Others merely need to change it. Democrats, particularly those in what are otherwise seen as Republican states, have been -- have touched it only gingerly. There are new CNN numbers that might change up the mix a little bit. So, we want to ask our guests about it.

CABRERA: Interesting.

BLACKWELL: All right. Candy, good to have you this morning.

CROWLEY: Thanks, guys.

BLACKWELL: Be sure to catch Candy on "STATE OF THE UNION" today at 9:00 Eastern.

CABRERA: Now, politics on a much lighter side. Former first ladies duking it out over who's job of mom in chief have it tougher. This is a "Saturday Night Live" version of how this might go and we're going to bring that to you, next.



BLACKWELL: That's Austrian singer Conchita Wurst, also known as the Bearded Lady.

And this year's politically charged Eurovision singing contest, Wurst became the first Austrian to win in nearly 50 years. This is happening despite the pressure from countries with anti-gay laws, Russia, Belarus, Romania, they wanted Wurst removed from the competition, but she won.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hillary and I know how hard it is to be working mothers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. I just know a little bit more. I mean for years I was flying all over the world dealing with some of the worst humanitarian crisis. But I suppose it's also tough to make a chubby kid eat an apple.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, obesity is killing our children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. Not so much in Syria. There it's more biological weapons. But kids, watch out for cakes (ph)!


BLACKWELL: Oh, I wish I could be part of those conversations. I'm sure it's never been like that. But pretty funny from "SNL".

CABRERA: Yes, you see that though and you've got to think, gosh, those writers at "SNL," they have so much fun in their job.

BLACKWELL: They do indeed.

CABRERA: Bottom line: it is Mother's Day, so happy Mother's Day to you. And thank you for joining us.