ESPN MyWish: Jailen Cooper

On a Monday afternoon I received an email from a publicist at ESPN asking
about my availability for that Wednesday. I had a heavy week ahead, but when
The Worldwide Leader asks, the answer is yes. She sent over the contract and a
brief on the assignment: go to Oakland Raiders training camp to shoot a visit
from Jailen Cooper, a 10-year-old cancer patient, for their yearly collaboration
with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, SportsCenter MyWish. I had to shoot RAW
and transmit the untouched files. Strobes were not permitted because they
interfere with the video cameras. And above all, I had to shoot without
getting in the way of the two video crews.

I arrived at Raiders headquarters (in my car featuring Steelers license plate
holders and SIXBURGH bumper sticker) in time to shoot Jailen and his family
arriving. Their first stop was the Raiders' TV studio for pictures and a
look at their three Lombardi trophies.

As Raider players began arriving for off-season practice, Jailen and cornerback
Nnamdi Asomugha headed for the training room to get taped up.

The hallways were quite narrow and between me, two video cameramen,
two sound engineers with boom mics, ESPN producer Kory Kozak, Jailen's
family, and Raiders PR staff, it got very crowded. We made it down to the
locker room where Jailen walked around shaking hands with all of the players.

The first bit of unintentional comedy came when Jailen - about waist-high
to most of the players - reached a collection of players who were...less than
fully dressed. The video guys and I traded a few looks and decided that we
didn't really need those shots.

The Raiders set up an actual locker for Jailen, complete with a helmet signed
by the entire team, and every piece of logo gear imaginable. After he put on
his cleats, he sat down and waited for the players to walk down to the
practice fields.

Once outside, Jailen and strength coach Brad Roll lead the team in stretches.
Jailen made his way over to 2010 Raiders first round draft pick Rolando
McClain to get some tips on proper tackling technique.

The second bit of unintentional comedy came when I said hello to McClain
and told him that I had also been on the Alabama football team. When
he didn't believe me, I took out my phone and showed him this picture
of me on the practice field taking orders from former Tide coach Gene
Stallings in 1991. He was surprised to say the least.

Next up was some time with the defensive backs which lead to this picture
of Jailen showing off his guns with the Raiders defensive backfield.

Jailen's favorite Raider is RB Darren McFadden, and they linked up for running
backs drills. Here Jailen carries the ball and tries to avoid getting hit with the pad.

The highlight of the day was Jailen's wish, to tackle McFadden. The other
players were just as excited as Jailen was, and they cheered as he lined up
opposite McFadden.

Jailen took off and and ran into McFadden, bringing him down to thunderous

After the tackle, the Raiders held Jailen up over their heads and ended practice
on a high note. I would have lots of nice pictures of this moment, but I got
crushed by the crowd of 300-pounders, and couldn't even lift my cameras.

Following practice, Jailen and Raiders head coach Tom Cable held a press
conference where they announced Jailen's (fake) signing to a Raiders contract,
and answered questions about the health of McFadden after the crushing tackle.

Jailen's day ended up at the team dining hall where Coach Cable showed
Jailen how to eat like a pro football player.

This was an awesome experience, and big thanks go out to Kim Jarvis and
Kory Kozak at ESPN.

If you want to check out the finished product, the story is here and
the SportsCenter MyWish video is here.