Gruesome Injury Challenges CBS' NCAA Tourney Coverage, But Net's Decisions Widely Accepted
Louisville G Kevin Ware suffered a compound fracture of his right leg during the first half of yesterday's Regional Final against Duke, and CBS' response "was textbook -- it let its pictures do the talking," according to Michael Hiestand of USA TODAY. After Ware went down, broadcasters Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg "quickly realized it was time to largely shut up." CBS "couldn't really avoid showing a replay of the injury, given that TV coverage should at least give viewers access to anything they'd see if they were in the stands." The net also was "sensible" during its halftime studio coverage. Host Greg Gumbel said there would be no replay -- "with the severity of that injury, we are not going to be showing it here." However, the CBS shots chosen by producer Mark Wolff and director Bob Fishman seemed "almost more compelling than replays of the injury itself." The closeups of "seemingly mortified fans were jarring," and the footage of Louisville coach Rick Pitino "wiping away tears was a striking visual." CBS Sports Group Chair Sean McManus said that on-site production staffers "made the initial call on limiting replay shots while network executives made the decision not to include it in halftime coverage." He said, "We're not going to show it again today and I don't think we'll show it in the future" (USA TODAY, 4/1). He added that because of the "graphic nature of the injury, the network decided not to show it after the original replays." McManus: "We did not zoom in on the injury when he was taken off. We did not try to highlight it. I think we did the right thing" (AP, 3/31). ESPN's Mike Golic said he has "zero problem with the way they handled that, because that’s always tough.” He noted that he has been “in the booth calling games with gruesome injuries, and we actually discuss it." Golic: "Do you want to show this? Show it once and then you don’t show it? There are big time discussions on how you handle this, and I thought they handled it just fine” (“Mike & Mike in the Morning,” ESPN Radio, 4/1).
THE RIGHT CALL: SI.com's Richard Deitsch writes TV viewers have "rarely seen as severe an image" as Ware breaking his leg, and CBS "handled it well." The production "quickly moved off the video of the play (there were only two replays) to tell the surrounding story: fans, teammates and coaches crying, opponents reacting with horror." CBS cameras "followed Ware being removed from the arena and did so with proper distance." The network "opted -- smartly -- to stay with the scene rather than go to commercial." Nantz expressed the "proper tone given the images provided by his director." Sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson was "particularly impressive," as she reported "quickly Ware had broken his leg, updated viewers often and conducted a strong postgame interview" with Pitino (SI.com, 4/1). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Ben Koo writes, "You do have tip your hat to Kellogg, for being on top of what was occurring and setting the proper tone as well as gently hand holding the audience through the couple of replays while it must have been chaotic on the floor. ... The reaction shots were stirring and the right way to go and I have to think it was wise of CBS to not go to commercial, which is usually the go to move for a moment like this" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 4/1). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes it was an "uneasy situation for any network, and it's easy to second-guess a network for whatever decisions it makes during a time like that." But CBS did "about as well as you could expect." Jones: "Put it this way: If Ware was my brother or son or friend, I wouldn't have had a problem with the coverage" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 4/1). ABC's Josh Elliott said, "The tears in the eyes of the fans, players and coaches on both teams said it all” (“GMA,” ABC, 4/1). FoxSports.com's Jason Whitlock wrote, "CBS Sports handles this curveball (Ware injury) masterfully. ... I liked Nantz's and Kellog's tone and I definitely thought the footage of reaction was important. Studio team right tone, too. +1 CBS." SpiracleMedia co-Founder Bill Voth wrote, "CBS has handled this as well as possible. Also didn’t make Pitino do interview going into half like all coaches have to do when leading" (TWITTER.com, 3/31). In Baltimore, David Zurawik wrote, "I would have been just as happy had CBS not showed it at all. I truly think the one replay was a judgement call. And with the warning, I am OK with it." The "power of the replay was not in seeing Ware." It was in "seeing the reaction of the Louisville bench" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 3/31).
THE WRONG CALL: Blogger Clay Travis wrote CBS opting not to replay the injury at halftime was "the wrong decision." A lot of people "sat down to learn more about the injury at halftime and weren't watching the game live." Ware's injury "was THE story at halftime," and CBS instead chose to "take the easy way out and allow the fauxrage to win." CBS would have been "criticized, but when you're criticized for making the right decision, don't you have to live with it?" (OUTKICKTHECOVERAGE.com, 3/31). SPORTS ON EARTH's Will Leitch wrote, "I absolutely respect CBS, ESPN, USA TODAY Sports and SB Nation for deciding not to replay the video or to GIF the play." But you are going to have "a hard time convincing me that The Big Lead and Deadspin and Buzzfeed and Yahoo and anybody else did something wrong by GIFing the play." Leitch: "Sure, it feels wrong to post a video of something so brutal and raw ... on a page next to a pageview counter and a Facebook Like button. I'm not sure it is, though, for several reasons." Ware's injury and Louisville's "reaction to it, instantaneously became the story of the tournament." Not covering "something -- not showing it -- because it is unpleasant or unwelcome in polite company is no way to last long in the news business" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 4/1).
ESPN'S DECISION: ESPN did not air video of the injury during both its late-night "SportsCenter" last night or this morning's editions. The net's policy on airing the clip is to only show it in full speed and stop the footage before the exposed bone could be seen. Shows were told to issue a warning to viewers before the video airs. The clip would be shown only once per show and not in any bumps or teases. Video of trainers tending to Ware and of him being taken off on stretcher were deemed to be OK (THE DAILY). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Koo noted ESPN's decision to follow CBS' lead and not show the footage last night came "to the surprise of many." Many people on social media were "against the decision noting that it was the story of the day, people were talking about it, and it could be done respectfully and minimally." Koo: "Ultimately, I think the right call was to abstain from shining a light on something that was likely going to make a broad audience like ESPN's cringe. ... ESPN could have very easily decided to show the replay and in a manner that would have been responsible and respectful. Did they take the high road? I wouldn't say that, but I'll say they made a decision that probably hurt their ratings and pissed off some viewers and were decisive and firm with the path they chose" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 4/1).