During Sunday's NCAA Elite Eight matchup between the Louisville Cardinals and the Duke Blue Devils, Louisville's sophomore guard Kevin Ware suffered a gruesome compound fracture of his leg. The sight left Coach Rick Pitino and several players in tears, as Ware was eventually carted off on a stretcher. CBS showed two quick replays of the injury from a wide angle, but not blood or bone, and declined to air footage of it again during the post-game. Their handling of this delicate circumstance during a live broadcast has become the subject of much discussion, with many criticizing their tentative stance. Personally, I think CBS did the right thing by letting people choose to watch the clip again (or not) online.
The chairman of CBS Sports, Seth McManus, said of the event, "If people want to go watch the footage for whatever reason, they have a right to do so.”
And people have certainly been exercising that right, as the YouTube clips already have millions of views and counting. It's difficult to say whether or not the graphic content warning makes it more or less enticing overall, but soon more people will have seen it online than were watching live. Though many are praising CBS for demonstrating restraint and letting the social media universe do its job, some journalists are questioning the network for backing away from showing the clip.
One argument is that a news organization has an obligation to show you the reality of what is happening, without deciding what you should or shouldn't see.
“It's a slippery slope,” says Bill Plaschke of ESPN, who was bothered by the censorship of the event. “When you're watching sports, you have to understand you're watching sports. This sort of stuff can happen.”
Plaschke would have preferred that CBS show more replays of the injury with a disclaimer advising people to look away if they did not wish to see it. I feel his argument disregards the immense ease of viewing the clip online. CBS was not deciding what we should or shouldn't see, they were deciding what they, as an individual news outlet, wanted to show us. It would be foolish to assume that everyone would obey copyright laws and not upload clips of the obviously tweet-worthy event.
I'm strongly against censorship, and agree that a news organization deciding what's fit for our viewing is a dangerous proposition, but that's simply not what was going on here. Once the live footage was aired, it was out there, and nothing could stop it from going viral. Remember Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl? And that was before Facebook and Twitter. A live broadcast always shows you the truth, so there's really no slippery slope to be worried about as long as we keep showing sports in real time.
The other argument against CBS' coverage points out their relative willingness to show ad nauseum the football hits that lead to much more devastating injuries. While Kevin Ware's compound fracture was indeed gruesome, the reality of it is that he will more than likely be back on the court next season with minimal long-term effects. In contrast, the hits that are suggested to lead to degenerative brain disease in football players are not nearly as graphic, and they are replayed constantly. This appears to be a double standard, and while I agree that our desensitization to subtle but extremely deleterious injuries in football is a problem, I don't think anyone in this camp is suggesting that CBS should have shown Ware's injury dozens of times to balance the scales. In general, we could stand to be more sensitive to the issue of injured athletes.
The difficulty is finding the middle ground between over-exposing injuries and pretending like they don't happen. I think CBS did a fine job in this regard, letting social media handle the distribution so that people could opt-in as they saw fit. They also continued to talk about the injury throughout the broadcast despite not showing the replay, so it's not like they completely swept it under the rug. If you really want to watch the clip, you can find it here, but I for one am counting myself lucky that I happened to be channel surfing during the injury.