TV networks seldom score points for restraint when it comes to broadcasting live sports. But CBS managed that feat with its treatment of Louisville sophomore Kevin Ware’s horrific injury in the Cardinals’ win Sunday over Duke.
The network on Monday stood by its decision to play the Final Four moment conservatively even as online clips of the injury racked up millions of YouTube views and played on some competitors’ air almost 24 hours after the game.
During a conference call with reporters, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said footage of it would likely never air again on the network. “It’s not necessary and not journalistically important,” he said. “I think we did the right thing.” That wasn’t an automatic call in the cutthroat multi-screen landscape, where most networks are looking to keep second-screen eyeballs as well as driving linear ratings. “This footage was available to anyone with a computer within three seconds, and I have no problem with that.”
After Ware suffered a compound fracture of his right leg early in Sunday’s win over Duke, CBS elected to show just two replays, including one from the other side of the court. (Injury footage originally proliferated on YouTube, though by Monday afternoon some clips disappeared as CBS started filing copyright claims.) The broadcast grew eerily silent and McManus said CBS never thought of cutting to commercial, relying instead on wide shots and reactions to carry nine minutes of live aftermath.
Lead announcer Jim Nantz still seemed to be processing the experience. “For it to happen right by the Louisville bench,” he said, created reaction footage that in some ways was as visceral as the leg break itself. “The shock and the horror, to see three teammates immediately collapse to the hardwood, it’s just hard to get your mind around it.”
“It’s as raw and emotional a circumstance as I’ve ever been involved with as a broadcaster,” added Nantz’s on-air partner Clark Kellogg.
Ware had surgery and recovered enough to receive his teammates as hospital visitors after the win. He posed for pictures with the team’s Final Four trophy and is expected to be on the Louisville bench for Saturday’s game against surprising Wichita State. McManus said planning had just begun for Saturday’s telecast, but the initial thinking was to continue the restrained approach.
Nantz said maintaining discipline was the key to handling the moment - something, it is worth noting, that the announcers of previous TV sports injuries have utterly lacked. “You can never plan for something like that,” he said, pausing often as he gathered his thoughts. “The images were so powerful. What was coming out of our truck was so raw. The emotion on the faces of players and coaches and fans visibly sick in the stands. What could you say? There was very little you could add to that.”