April 2, 2013

Editorial: Television finally gets it


---- — Network television apparently has gotten it: America’s TV-watching public is not a group of emergency first responders — people don’t want to see nauseating injuries replayed until nightmares set in.

Sports fans of a couple of generations ago have the bad fortune to remember photographs of the great young Cleveland Indians pitcher Herb Score back in 1956 after a line drive rocketed off the bat of the Yankees’ Gil McDougald and crashed into his eye.

Blood gushed all over his face and the front of his uniform, and a career bursting with thrilling promise was, for all practical purposes, over. After surgery and recuperation, Score came back, but he was never the dominant force on the mound that he had been until his date with fate. America was sickened by both photos of the event and its outcome.

A tragedy hauntingly similar befell Boston Red Sox star outfielder Tony Conigliaro in 1967 when he was hit in the eye by a Jack Hamilton fastball. A home-run hitter with matinee idol good looks, Conigliaro’s career was virtually ended that night, and the photos in newspapers the next day told the horrible tale better than words ever could.

Who can forget watching replay after replay of Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann’s devastating leg injury after he scrambled away from linebacker Harry Carson on a “Monday Night Football” game against the Giants in 1985. He was caught and pulled down awkwardly by Lawrence Taylor, whereupon another linebacker, Gary Reasons, applied the crushing blow by falling on top of him.

Theismann’s leg bent in a way legs are not meant to bend, and the TV audience was horrified as ABC replayed the disaster again and again.

Television should have learned its lesson then. But in 2002, ABC imposed on us once again, showing and reshowing University of Miami running back Willis McGahee’s contorted leg as it was bent backward during the national championship game.

There have been other notable intrusions on sports spectators’ sensibilities. It has taken decades for broadcasters to get the message.

But now, at long last, TV seems to have finally caught on: Viewers are disgusted by the sight of human bodies being gnarled.

Sunday evening, one of the worst accidents of all befell collegiate basketball star Kevin Ware of the Louisville Cardinals in their Elite Eight game against Duke University. Ware landed badly on a play, and his leg was snapped in two below the knee. Announcers Jim Nance and Clark Kellogg were hushed by the horror of the sight, as were players and staffs on both teams, game officials and live spectators.

CBS showed the play once, Nance warning the queasy to turn away, and did not show it again.

Ware will recover. So will the TV audience. Mercifully for all, TV has finally learned its lesson.