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How CBS, ESPN, and others dealt with Kevin Ware injury footage

You would think this shot was of a losing team moments after the buzzer. Unfortunately it was one of many surreal shots of players, coaches, and fans reacting to Kevin Ware's gruesome injury.

I was about seven minutes behind watching the Louisville-Duke game when I started seeing the tweets roll in on Kevin Ware's terrible injury. After seeing some of the social media discourse taking place, I hit fast forward and actually went past it when I then saw Tyler Thornton, a Duke player who had just made a three point attempt, staring over at the injured Ware. The whistle had not yet been blown but upon seeing the extent of the injury from a distance, Thornton made a face and turned his back to it and what would have been a Louisville possession. Thornton then covered his eyes with his hand, turned back to see if what he initially saw was not a momentary illusion, grimaced again, before grabbing his heart visually disturbed.

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I rewound to see what exactly happened having fast forwarded past it. Upon seeing it in real time, I let out a scream and watched the reaction shots CBS played before realizing I hadn't breathed in quite some time and my jaw was wide open.

For fans not old enough to remember Joe Theismann's injury on Monday Night Football, here was this generation's squeamish sports injury moment.  A big game with a big national audience and an injury that was so unnatural, that many watching there and on television had some type of physical reaction.

The visual of Ware's leg itself was enough to make you cringe or squirm but many other shots coupled with it also added to the somber reality of the moment. 

In particular there is a split second after the Thornton three falls when the entire Louisville bench just feet away sees the extent of the injury and collectively jumps and squirms in a manner that you just never see in any setting. It was later reported that some thought members of the Louisville bench vomited.

Ware's unfortunate injury quickly put CBS, ESPN, and others in a tough spot as it was going to overshadow any other sports story and potentially any news story of the day. It had to be covered, yet the footage was so disturbing that many viewers and readers were going to be physically, mentally, and emotionally affected by viewing it. Below is a look at how media companies handled footage of the injury.

CBS

Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg were on the call and had the duty of dealing with a nine minute break in play as Ware was attended to and transported out of the arena.

Kellogg was quick to realize the severity of the injury mentioning it about 12 seconds after the injury occurred and about five seconds after referees stopped play. 

For the next 30 seconds, Kellogg seems to take the lead a bit from Nantz who likely just didn't see the injury or the leg popping out of the skin. At about 50 seconds after the injury, CBS shows the first replay, a shot from above the basket on the other side of the court. CBS then shows the initial shot again, which seems to bring Nantz's tone in line with Kellogg as he murmurs  "Oh Lord" as Kellogg explains how the injury occurred.

Up until this point, I don't think it's fair to judge CBS as we're still inside of a minute of the injury and I don't think many knew the scope that the moment would have. 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. Another replay of the injury would not be shown during the injury timeout, halftime show, or postgame show.

At this point, the severity of the moment and the footage has now fully sunken in. CBS opted to go with 40 seconds of silence showing the Louisville team rallying around Ware and medical staff scrambling to the situation. I do want to make a note that Louisville forward Luke Hancock was almost immediately hovering over Ware and that says a lot about him in my opinion. At that split second, it's instinctual and almost physical reaction to how you will handle seeing something like that and it should be noted that Hancock's split second reaction was to comfort his teammate.

There is mostly silence and stirring reaction shots from the fans, players, and coaches for the next couple of minutes. Nantz doesn't say much and when he does it's quick and to the point. Kellogg, who really took the reigns away from Nantz in the first minute, goes a full three minutes without saying a word. 

When he jumps back in, he confirms Nantz's comment that he's never seen anything like this in basketball.

About four and a half minutes after the injury occurred, CBS goes to sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson, who gives some insight into the reactions from the Louisville side and the progress in getting Ware to a hospital. Breaking from broadcasting norm, there is no smooth transition back to Nantz or Kellogg or a "thanks for the report, Tracy" as all involved are probably a bit too shaken to participate in the niceties of typical broadcasting procedure and understandably so.

Another stretch of silence and reaction shots is interrupted by Kellogg who poignantly says, "Totally uncharted territory here Jim. For everybody in the building, for the players, for us."

Kellogg seemed a bit choked up and given the amount of silence during these tense moments and the words he used there, you have to think he was really struggling to keep his composure and that's perfectly fine given the situation.

Another stretch of silence as they show more reaction shots and the progress of the stretcher making its way to Ware.

Nantz chimes back in that coaches are meeting with the referees and Pitino is wiping away tears. Ware is carted off and play resumes not too long after.

It doesn't take too long for the players and Nantz and Kellogg to settle back into the groove.

Wolfson chimes in several more times with some helpful updates. The halftime show, which has a motley crew of jokesters, steers away from any replay of the injury and pivots away from their typical light hearted discussion, a decision that some called into question.

All in all, I give CBS pretty high marks. The decision was made within a little over a minute and after two initial replays they weren't going to show it again. Nantz and Kellogg were both shaken but kept the broadcast moving along without any unnecessary tangents or commentary.

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 as it allows the production team, announcing team, and network to scramble a bit behind the scenes and sync on a way to cover the breaking story. 

CBS had the toughest job out of any media company by far and given these things happen in a vacuum, I thought they did a commendable job given the broadcast was hijacked by a stomach cringing moment that will stick with us for years to come.

ESPN

In the moments after the injury, I tweeted out my curiosity on how CBS and ESPN would handle the replay issue of the injury. I thought it would be shown again given how much buzz was building around it and was just hoping it would not be sensationalized and would be given a VERY strong disclaimer so that viewers could decide accordingly. 

Much to my surprise, CBS opted to not show it again and Scott Van Pelt tweeted that ESPN would not either when highlights became available to them. 

ESPN had much more time to make a call on this one as I don't think they are able to show highlights until the game concludes. 

That said, they are the go-to destination on television and the web for top stories and video highlights. No doubt, millions who were not watching the game had a curiosity in what everyone was talking about and ESPN had the ability to satisfy that itch.

Now Van Pelt, CBS, and others are taking some flack for "taking the high road" and overreacting as if someone died. While going to get a late lunch, I had that thought myself. Ware will likely be okay. He'll probably play basketball again.  There are MUCH bigger travesties in the world to get wrapped up in.

ESPN hasn't been gun shy with memorable leg injuries like Marcus Lattimore and Willis McGahee and Theismann's infamous injury was featured as the open in the movie The Blind Side. Theismann would actually tweet about the injury and later shared his thoughts with USA Today on seeing a similar type of injury occur.

Also if you think about it, leg injuries in the scheme of things are not as long term impactful as say, something like a neck or head injury and I don't recall ESPN or others being afraid of Johnny Knox's career ending injury or what was a scary moment when Jahvid Best suffered a memorable concussion at Cal.

But what occurred to me and was later echoed by Van Pelt, is that while the injury wasn't a massive tragedy, Ware's life wasn't jeopardized, and neither was his quality of life to a certain degree, the footage of it was disturbing enough that I think the majority of people upon seeing it for the first time would have a pretty severe reaction to it. Severe enough that a disclaimer, which actually draws people in more often than scaring people away, was not going to suffice. 

So ESPN followed CBS's lead and opted to not show the footage to the surprise of many. I saw a lot of people who 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.

I sensed though, especially from people who had already seen the injury, that there was a lot of support for ESPN going this route. 

Honestly, it's a tough call given the intrigue and the fact you are ESPN and this is where people go for coverage. 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.

Local News

I got a lot of tweets from folks at local news affiliates saying they were opting not to show the footage. Here in the Bay Area, from what I can tell nobody aired the footage, but I'm definitely curious how other affiliates handled it given how much of a topic of conversation it was through out the day. Feel free to chime in the comments with what your local affiliates did.

Online 

Although I'm supportive of how CBS and ESPN handled it, I don't think it's a black and white issue for any media company. Below is a breakdown of how some media companies handled the story.

- Deadspin was quick on the draw on getting the footage up and that's fine. Deadspin is not exactly a website that people just stumble upon without knowledge of their audacious voice. Someone tweeted me "that's what Deadspin is for" and while it maybe a bit unfair to hold them to a different standard, the reality is that Deadspin is where you go for things that the mainstream media shies away from.

-  The New York Post also posted the video and even gave it top promotion on their website as seen below. If you know anything about the New York Post, this isn't really shocking at all. Maybe it's a bit tacky how much promotion the front page of the website gave it, but the New York Post has never given a shit what anyone thinks.

- SI's Pete Thamel became Twitter's punching bag when he tweeted out a link to an article he wrote about Ware's recruitment background. Thamel did this as Ware was still being attended to. A company man perhaps looking for page views? Not the case, as the story is from his previous employer and not an SI article. 

Thamel would later backtrack from the insensitive tweet and rightfully so.

-  Other notables who decided to have the video on their sites include SportsGrid, Huffington PostThe Christian Post, and the Los Angeles Times, among thousands of other online sites and local newspapers.

The Huffington Post article is recognized as being "most popular"  a sign of just how sticky and enticing this story is. The clip they have embedded is a SportsGrid branded clip that includes advertising, which would be poor form in my opinion to monetize something like this.

- USA Today and SB Nation were quick to tweet out they would not make a GIF of the injury, a decision that most seemed to applaud.

- The one media organization that I really think got it wrong was Yahoo. Not too long after the injury, Yahoo had several articles that had a GIF of the injury at the bottom of them (GIFs obviously auto play). Yahoo also promoted this as their top story on their front page meaning it likely got a mid to high 7 figure amount of page views.

Promoting the story is fine. It's a big story. But to funnel that many people to a page where the injury is shown without allowing the reader make the decision to watch or not watch, was reckless in my opinion. Worse yet, GIF's play over and over again. The end result, a very large audience of readers saw this on the front page of Yahoo, clicked over, read about the injury and without clicking play or a link to see the injury, were subjected to the horrors of it… over and over again.

The GIF was later replaced with a video player that required a click to start but the damage was done.  It's not just myself and others who deemed this really poor form by Yahoo as their own Dan Wetzel chimed in with his disappointment that Yahoo had gone that route.

Final Thoughts

I give high marks to CBS for how they handled the immediate reaction to the injury. No commercials, limited replays, and not too much chatter in addition to poignant words and great reaction shots and reporting.

Honestly, if they showed the replay at half time in a responsible manner, I would be fine with it. Deciding not to, I think was the smart decision but I can see both sides.

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. I am guessing the decision to not show it was rooted in the idea that many who would watch it would later have wished they never saw it. In essence, the responsibility of deciding what was too graphic outweighed the responsibility of being the worldwide leader in sports coverage.

Other outlets did what they saw fit. At least one sportswriter (Pete Thamel) had a pretty significant lapse of judgment that called for an apology. Yahoo showed the least amount of tact, which is surprising given the track record of a lot of other sports media players out there.

All in all, it's a moment that will stay with us for years to come and one that I hope we don't see anything else like it for decades to come. While the moment itself is memorable, it's important to note how media companies handled the breaking story. 

Ben Koo

About Ben Koo

Copying and pasting my Twitter bio. I'm also refusing (for now) to write this in the third person. This is me - CEO of @Bloguin, GM at @AwfulAnnouncing, world's greatest chinese jew, proud Buckeye, funny dude, and sports and digital media zealot.

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