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Keeping McCullough story secret was key for Spain’s riveting, incredible E:60 piece

ESPN reporter Sarah Spain told a story on last Sunday’s E:60 that no one had heard before.

The widely shared story was about Kansas City Chiefs running backs coach Deland McCullough’s journey to find out who his biological parents were. Reactions to Spain’s story came in from fans, coaches, players, journalists and even an Oscar-winning actress. Spain shares with Front Row how she discovered the untold story, why they kept it quiet and whose reaction shocked her most.

How did you first hear about Deland’s story?
My good friend Skip Tramontana messaged me in the early spring and told me he had an incredible story to share, the next “30 for 30,” he said. We met up a few weeks later over lunch. In only a ten-minute telling I got the chills and teared up. I knew it was something special and set up a meeting with the “30 for 30” folks to discuss it. Since it’s more of a “what’s happening now” story instead of a “what happened then” story, they passed it along to the E:60 folks and we went from there.

Why was it important to the team to not unveil this story until Sunday morning?
This was a crazy story to promote – or, more accurately, not promote. We knew that if anyone connected to the Chiefs, Seahawks, USC, Miami University or even the Youngstown area heard there was a half-hour feature on the Chiefs new running backs coach, Deland McCullough, they would start digging. We knew if anyone covered it the debut of the E:60 and the longform written feature just wouldn’t have had the same impact. Thankfully Deland, his family and everyone that helped us with footage did a great job of keeping the story under wraps.

What needed to take place in order for you to be able to tell the story in this way?
Honestly, producer John Minton is such a pro and so experienced with this kind of storytelling, he knew exactly what we needed to get from all of our interview subjects. Because of Minton we were able to ask the right questions to have the story almost entirely told by the people who lived it. I’d say the key, of course, was that Deland and his family were also open to telling their stories and were great storytellers.

How did you feel when Reese Witherspoon praised your story? Was that the most surprising person you heard from?

Incredible! She’s not only a fantastic actress but over the last few years she’s been an incredible voice for female film makers and producers, so it was great to hear that the story touched her. I was also moved by the kind words from “competitors” or peers in the industry, reaching across the aisle, as it were, to point people in the directions of our pieces. Nice to hear from the head of Disney, Bob Iger, and our new president, Jimmy Pitaro, too.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Download the ESPN Podcast of Spain discussing the story and reading the feature “Runs In The Family.”

 

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