“How often,” asks ESPN.com columnist and Monday Night Countdown contributor Rick Reilly, “do you get to caption a photo as ‘tools and tulle’?”
Come to think of it, never. But as the lead photo below indicates, today is the day for just that caption.
“When you need a four-minute compelling feature every week on the NFL, you need a ton of help, so they came up with the idea of 320-pound Steve McLendon who practices ballet,” Reilly says. “As we were shooting, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wild to get Pittsburgh steel workers to try this? Maybe get some of these big, tough, grizzled guys in tutus?’
“Producer Kris Schwartz loved the idea and then made it happen — he convinced a worker to let us shoot him wearing a tutu,” Reilly explained. “But here’s the thing — the tutus are made of tulle, which is very flammable. During the shooting, the crew was really worried about the tulle catching fire. Luckily, it didn’t and the shots of the welder wearing a tutu is really funny and sets the contrast perfectly.”
For Schwartz, a 15-year ESPN veteran, it marked his first-ever ballet-related piece — – which airs on Monday Night Countdown (ESPN, 6:30 ET) on Sept. 16, just before the Steelers visit the Cincinnati Bengals (ESPN, 8:30 ET).
“Rick and I discussed pairing the grit of the city of Pittsburgh with the beauty of ballet, so we wound up recording a welder melting steel while wearing a tutu,” Schwartz says. “I’ll leave his name out because I got the feeling he might be the only construction worker in Pittsburgh that would have done this for us.”
McLendon took up ballet at Troy University in Alabama, and continues with it as a way to improve his dexterity. He had been trying to get some of his line mates to join him, and ends Ziggy Hood and Al Woods showed up at 8:30 a.m. on the day of the shoot.
“When I was first assigned to produce the feature, I was just hoping that Steve and his trainer, Stephanie Kibler (owner of Adrenaline Barre Fitness), would be receptive and have fun,” Schwartz says. “Steve’s not the type of 320-pound guy who would wear a tutu as a joke or hold any ballerinas up in the air because he takes these sessions seriously.
“After their private session, Ziggy and Al joined them, and Ziggy really got into the ballet theme and was doing some acrobatic jumps and turns that Stephanie was teaching them,” Schwartz says. “It was a light-hearted session, and I was very impressed by Steve’s knowledge of ballet terms like plié, glissade and tendu [stretched]. He did them all.”