Why ESPN’s coverage of Damar Hamlin’s ‘Monday Night Football’ injury is the best it can be under the circumstances

Injuries are an unfortunate part of any sport – look no further than in the NFL, where players can fall to a… television audiences in the tens of millions.

Usually, when a player is injured, the media will go into the promotion phase and back with replays of the injury – sometimes running over and over again, using every available camera angle, simultaneously. Time to analyze what could have happened and the ramifications for players and teams.

But in the case of the Buffalo Bills, the safety of Damar Hamlin, who fell to the ground after a dispute during a “Monday Night Football” match between the Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals, it was quickly realized that this was neither a broken arm nor an ACL tear. This is a matter of life and death. Paramedics worked to keep him alive on the field before he was transported to hospital, where he still in critical condition.

As the tragic scene unfolded, ESPN broadcasters and studio hosts had to explain what was happening in real time with virtually no information.

I’m a professor of sports journalism and spend most of my time teaching students how to cover games. As a sports journalist, I cover many competitions as if they were battles, with the language of war intertwined with the marvels of extraordinary human achievement.

However, when a crisis hits sport, the mass media will cover that moment. Some do it well and some fail miserably.

In covering Hamlin’s injury, I believe ESPN was a reputable and responsible broadcaster during one of football’s darkest moments on the pitch.

ESPN’s limited, measured response

ESPN’s Troy Aikman and Joe Buck, along with sideline reporter Lisa Salters, relayed the scene as it unfolded. But instead of filling the live broadcast with rambling comments and sensationalism, they responded with compassion and care. They avoided speculating about Hamlin’s condition and in the end called on the NFL to suspend the gameAikman asked, “How do you, as a member of the Buffalo Bills or the Cincinnati Bengals, continue to play football?”

As The Washington Post noted“Measured, informative and emotional broadcasts.”

From the set, former NFL players Booger McFarland and Ryan Clark offered their views on what it felt like to be a player on the field, at the time — whether a member of the Bills or the Bengals. They remind the audience that players are first and foremost human. McFarland acknowledge the inherent violence of the gameadded, “I think we’ve reached the point where tonight nobody cares about football anymore.”

Clark, who was hospitalized for a splenic infarction in 2007 right after playing a game for the Pittsburgh Steelers, admit that part of living the NFL dream is “putting your life in jeopardy.”

“Tonight we have to witness an extremely ugly side of football, a side that no one wants to see or never wants to acknowledge its existence,” he said.

The severity of the situation was reflected in ESPN cutting all ads for more than an hour for uninterrupted coverage. In doing so, the network emphasize the importance of the player’s life to the game or profit motive.

When the media goes astray

When disaster strikes on a live sports TV show, it’s easy to say something wrong, especially in an age where words can be widely spread, dissected, and criticized online. society.

Just ask controversial ESPN commentator Skip Bayless, who wasn’t even on the air, but went viral anyway for all the wrong reasons after tweeting: “There’s no doubt the NFL is considering postponing the rest of this game – but how? At the end of this season, a game of this magnitude is so important to the outcome of the regular season… this suddenly seems so irrelevant.”

Bayless may have had a point – the NFL now has to figure out how to deal with the outcome of this game and the implications for the post-season – but his tone and timing led to many criticisms.

Bayless is not the only broadcaster to be accused of insensitivity following the deaths or serious injuries of sports stars.

The 2020 deaths of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna are a model for what could happen, with TMZ reporting before their families were notified. ESPN has moved the news to ESPN2 so as not to disrupt the coverage of Pro Bowl. In their haste to reveal the details of the story, some reporters traded in misinformation. ABC News has finally suspended a reporter who said on air that all four of Bryant’s daughters were among the crash victims, while the BBC ran footage of LeBron James instead of Bryant.

Driver Kevin Ward, Jr. died in a 2014 sprint, but it was Tony Stewart, who was hit by a car, who has attracted most of the media. The media was quick to blame Stewart before an investigation pardoned the driver and revealed that Ward had been under the influence of enough marijuana to weakened him at the time of the accident.

The sports media has probably never been criticized for covering the incident as much as in 2020, when Danish footballer Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch. BBC camera showed that it wasn’t just medical professionals who performed chest compressions as Eriksen fought for his life, but also his crying mate and his wounded comrades. The camera lingers for 15 minutes before switching to the studio presenter.

Prioritize crying over making money

From the tragic deaths of basketball players Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis, to the deaths of auto racers Dan Weldon and Dale Earnhardt and Chuck Hughes, who in 1971, became the first NFL football player and only die in a match, it is the responsibility of the media to navigate a tragedy on behalf of the public.

Research has shown that the The media is often responsible for modeling appropriate public emotional expressions when traumatic or tragic events occur, be it out of respect for victims and their families or in public mourning. It can discuss that the media – especially in the digital age – are the primary means of connecting communities in the midst of a tragedy, as people seek to show support and share their pain.

There is a fine line when it comes to sport and disaster, as much of what people love about football is its belligerent nature. Players are depicted as gladiators in the arena. Media quotes athletes saying they will die for their comrades.

But when life and death become so real, the athlete’s health takes precedence over victory and defeat. At that time, the media, in my opinion, has a main task: reminding viewers of the humanity of the player.

As “Sports Center” presenter Scott Van Pelt says: “Sport is very important. And suddenly it wasn’t.”

Nicole KraftAssociate Professor of Clinical Communication, Ohio State University

This post was reposted from Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read original article.

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