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USA TODAY
Laken Litman, @LakenLitman, USA TODAY Sports

Suddenly one of the nation's most recognized athletes, Michael Sam's life changed quickly last month.

Requests and invitations came by the dozens, but that was more Howard Bragman's concern. So when Sam, aiming to be the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team, was invited to the 2014 White House Correspondents Dinner, his publicist stepped in.

"As much fun as I would have had and he would have had going, it sends the wrong message," Bragman said. "If he gets on a team and plays well, he'll probably be invited next year. I don't want people to think that he's interested in anything other than getting ready for the draft."

From the moment Sam decided to go public about being gay, strategy was key. And that meant consulting Bragman, who has developed a niche within his profession: helping celebrities and athletes come out.

Bragman is the chairman and founder of the public relations firm Fifteen Minutes and the vice chairman of Reputation.com, an online reputation management firm. He also serves as an ABC News consultant for Good Morning America, is a PR expert for Entertainment Tonight and has a weekly segment on MSNBC.

In 1991, Bragman, who is gay, was asked to assist actors Dick Sargent, of Bewitched, and Sheila Kuehl, of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, come out on National Coming Out Day. The duo discussed it on Entertainment Tonight to stay in control of their own stories.

Since then, Bragman has worked with Magic Johnson's son EJ Johnson, former NFL defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo, former basketball player John Amaechi and three-time WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes, among others. He didn't work with NBA player Jason Collins, but they're friends.

Bragman's work with Sam came after agents Joe Barkett and Cameron Weiss researched the best publicists. "I could just tell right away that he knew what he was doing," Weiss said. "He wasn't viewing it as your everyday PR client. He was passionate about this." Weiss liked Bragman's "less is more" approach.

"Just because you can get press doesn't mean you should get press," Bragman said. "It's an important distinction."

Once Sam's story broke, it exploded. "I'm a little surprised at how big a story it was," Bragman said, "but my job is to light the fuse and let my client tell the story and the media takes over from there."

The timing put Sam's announcement ahead of several key NFL dates. Sam, the 2013 Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year from Missouri, came out on Feb.9, less than two weeks before the scouting combine. Missouri's pro day is March 20 and the draft is May 8. Then organized team activities, training camp and the season.

On one point there is no doubt: Sam will be a story all year. Bragman will help him tell it.

"I don't think anyone could have done this as well as Howard," Weiss said.

 

March 5, 2014

 

 
 

 

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