One thousand people.
I could not believe it.
Twelve hours earlier I had posted a story I had just produced for the early evening newscast on Atlanta’s WXIA-TV. It surrounded a young man in northwest Georgia who, at age 5, had been diagnosed with autism. Since middle school he had served as the manager of the football team; now a high school senior, he had just done something on the field that had moved everyone in the stands.
That young man’s name is Logan, and he scored a touchdown.
And within half a day of my posting Logan’s story on Facebook, it had been liked by 1,000 people; it had reached 100,000. And it was just getting started.
Logan’s story was about to take off around the world.
I have the good fortune, through my job as a reporter, of continually meeting fascinating people. Sometimes they are famous figures; sometimes they are citizens championing a cause. So often, though, they are people who never intended to feel the reflection of a TV camera lens; they just did something to become worthy of it.
That was the case with Logan.
I first caught wind of his touchdown through a co-worker. Logan had made his run on a Friday; I pitched his story the following Monday but did not get assigned to do it. I asked, though, if I could set up the story for later in the week and received the green light, and I targeted Thursday for my shoot.
I drove 100 minutes from Atlanta to the tiny town of Ringgold; I met Logan at his high school, surrounded by his mom, coach, and several friends.
He made quite the first impression.
In the company of friends, Logan carried a smile and energy that lifted the room. He made jokes, laughed hard, and enjoyed himself as I shot footage of the group interacting.
Then the group left … and Logan shut down.
With just his mother and me in the room, Logan stopped smiling, seemed tentative and nervous, and responded with one- and two-word answers. As his mom Danielle said, I had just witnessed how his autism operates. He takes far longer than most to pick up social cues, and he struggles mightily in new situations.
I walked away from that shoot quite stunned. I had told numerous stories about children on the autism spectrum, but I had never seen it create such a stark contrast from one situation to the next. I knew immediately I would want to incorporate that into the story.
On my second shoot with Logan, that contrast came alive … in a powerful, joyous way.
I showed up at that night’s football game for Logan’s team, Heritage High School, and placed a wireless microphone on Logan. I then sat back and watched how he behaved.
It was a blast.
Well before the opening kickoff, Logan began hopping along the sidelines, screaming for the crowd to get loud and cheer. When the game began, he did not stop; Logan turned around after every play and yelled to the fans:
“LET ME HEAR YOU!”
“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
“DID SOMEBODY TELL YOU GUYS A BEDTIME STORY? COME ON!”
“YOU ACT LIKE YOU’RE OUT OF LUNCH MONEY … LET’S GO!”
At one point, an assistant coach came up to Logan and said, “You’re gonna lose your voice.” Logan laughed and responded, “I don’t care.”
For the second time in as many shoots, I was stunned. The contrast from before seemed even stronger, and Logan could not have seemed more comfortable and content. When given the right environment, he did not just exist within it; he shined.
That became as much a part of my story as what had happened six days earlier. His team, and its opponent from Cartersville High School, conspired to dress Logan as a player, put him into a game, and give him the ball. Logan ran to daylight, galloping into the end zone and getting mobbed by his teammates — and by the opposing players who had just let him score.
It was a beautiful moment … made more beautiful by the setting that surrounded it.
My story aired the following Friday. Then came the fun part.
One million people.
I could not believe it.
Several days of posting Logan’s story to Facebook, I looked at the numbers and found it had been seen by a million users. It had been liked and shared thousands of times, and it had received attention and comments from north Georgia to southeast Asia.
My stories — and my Facebook posts about them — rarely get much attention. They usually, according to Facebook’s insights, reach a few hundred people, sometimes a few thousand.
But a million? That just didn’t happen … until it did.
People seemed particularly touched by the celebration of Logan’s touchdown. They loved that both teams got in the act, and they strongly cheered on the messages of sportsmanship and empathy. Many spoke about getting tears in their eyes.
I was overwhelmed by how quickly the video spread. New likes, shares, and comments arrived literally every second. People wrote comments in which they simply tagged a friend, so that the friend could watch the video. The numbers surprised even the 11Alive digital team, which monitors a Facebook account with hundreds of thousands of followers.
To watch it all unfold felt both shocking and gratifying.
We talk all the time about the power of social media, and we often view it in more personal matters: the ability to keep in touch with friends, to share the moments of our lives, or to rally communities around causes. This was something different. This was watching a single story — and a beautiful video of Logan — reach a global audience and affect a number of people I could rarely otherwise reach. This was realizing a singular strength of life on earth in 2015: the potential for one person’s action — anyone, not just Logan and certainly not just me — to spread communally and organically in ways that bust traditional boundaries.
I could not have asked for a much better way to do so than through Logan’s touchdown. It presents such an uplifting message, especially when combined with the story behind it. In retrospect, that’s probably what sent it into the Facebook stratosphere.
How high did it climb? Ten days later, I checked the post again and saw these numbers:
And its total reach?
Twelve million people.
I could not believe it.
Here is Matt’s full story about Logan.