In Sunday’s editions of SportsCenter, the weekly SC Featured segment will follow two St. Louis Rams players as they go undercover for 24 hours to learn more about the plight of the homeless.
The players, William Hayes and Chris Long, wore makeup to help hide their identities and were dressed in second-hand clothes. They had small button cameras on their clothing and were wired for sound as they were followed by the ESPN crew.
Co-producers Gustavo Coletti and Steve Buckheit from the ESPN Features Unit learned of their assignment on a Friday night in March and were quickly on their way to St. Louis to start shooting on Sunday night.
“Within 36 hours, we had to put together a team,” said Coletti.
– Steve Buckheit
“The challenge for us was that this was a little bit out of our element,” said Buckheit. “We needed someone who knew how to spy on someone at night, be sort of a fly on the wall, and not intrude on what we wanted to remain a very organic experiment. We got consultation of a private investigator for that.”
Coletti said equipment such as night vision lenses was needed. “There were a lot of quick decisions and quick research,” he said.
Working with ESPN Global Security, Coletti and Buckheit hired some off-duty police officers to work with them, one of whom was also disguised and stayed with the players, and others who stayed with the ESPN crew. They also communicated with local police so that law enforcement was aware of what was going on and would not be suspicious.
“At no point did we feel unsafe,” Coletti said.
Although they were never recognized as Rams, an issue did arise after the first night when the players began to express concern that some in the tight-knit homeless community might think they were undercover police officers. For their own safety, they decided to stop the experiment after one of two planned days.
“We still feel like we captured the essence of their wide-eyed experience of being homeless,” said Buckheit. “I was very relieved at how genuine our two principles came across. There was no agenda; they were very genuine in everything they did. I feel it was mission accomplished.”
“Life on the Streets” debuts in the 10 a.m. ET SportsCenter on Sunday, May 31, and will air in other editions of the program throughout the day. A companion piece on ESPN.com will also be posted Sunday.