The Louisville-Duke game was on the TV in the living room of my parents’ house, where I sat talking with some family friends after Easter dinner. When I looked up, there was a player lying on the ground with a towel thrown over his legs. Coaches and athletic trainers were huddled around him. Players from both teams appeared to be shedding tears, vomiting or holding back one of the two.
Something awful had happened, clearly. None of the half-dozen people in the room with me had seen it, but they saw the aftermath. The knee-jerk sentiment was unanimous: Come on, CBS. Show a replay.
Gradually, as a flood of tweets described the gruesome, freak accident that occurred, it became obvious that we did not, in fact, want to see the replay. Simply hearing a description of it, coupled with the emotional reactions of the players and announcers, was more than enough to turn our stomachs. Everybody’s heart went out to the 20-year-old kid lying on the floor at Lucas Oil Stadium as the entire basketball-watching world seemed to go into a state of shock.
The problems came when the shock wore off and was replaced by anger. Ware’s writhing body had not even been removed from the court before Twitter’s self-appointed gladiators lashed out against straw men, daring the Web’s news aggregators to perform the tasteless job of posting video or GIFs of Ware’s injury. Within minutes, they had a real antagonist, as The Big Lead was the first to post an animation of the incident. SB Nation and our own site decided not to.
Personally, I did not want to see the gruesome spectacle, and in this I feel like I am in the majority. Still, I did not think it was improper for other, more curious people to want to see it, or for news outlets to post video of the horrific incident. In this, I feel like I am very much not in the majority.
The decision by The Big Lead, Deadspin and others to post the video has been met with outrage. Exactly what that outrage stems from is ill-defined. As best I can tell, the people who are angry with these websites are upset that someone is trying to capitalize on Ware’s suffering, to sensationalize it for mouse clicks and page views. They are angry not that anybody might want to see the ghastly thing, but that there is someone out there who is even willing to show it. Through their rage, they seem to be trying to convince everybody else that they are moral, good and empathetic. The flip side, of course, is the implication that anyone who does not share their rage is none of those things.
To the tangible point — that some websites are benefiting from Ware’s suffering — I say: Of course they are. Don’t be naïve. The news business has always relied on tragedy to sell itself, which is why the nightly newscast always opens with the day’s killings (the stuff that draws in viewers) and later shows the weather (the stuff that is more likely to be useful to the average viewer’s life when he gets up for work tomorrow). It does this because that is what consumers want, even as they insist they do not. Newspapers fly off the shelves and TV ratings bump upward when the lead story is tragic and heart-wrenching. News companies do keep track of those sorts of things.
While the Internet moralists wring their hands over “the media’s” contribution to the decline of civilization, I have still managed to go almost a full day without viewing Ware’s injury. It is everywhere now, not just on a few sites that are easily castigated and judged. Yet avoiding the footage really is not that hard. When I see a link that mentions a video, I do the same thing I do when I receive an email from a long-lost “uncle” in Nigeria who wants to send me an inheritance — I ignore it. I go on my merry way and get back to work, which in my case mostly involves making snide comments about the Lakers on Twitter.
I do not care to see Ware’s shin bone pop out of his flesh. No thanks. Still, I am uncomfortable with anyone telling me what I can or cannot do, even if I wouldn’t want to do it anyway. I also do not want to own an assault weapon, or marry a gay person. But I recognize that there are people who want to do those things, and in the vast majority of cases, letting those people do those things is unlikely to affect my life in a major way.
To post or not to post, that was the question for news producers and news aggregators on Sunday. As we know, many chose not to post. They found the video too unsightly, too disgusting to show their viewers, while others chose to trust their audience, for viewers to fulfill their curiosity, but only if they desired. Even if one believes that either course of action was “right,” hopefully one can at least agree that the opposite course was not flatly wrong.
Otherwise, we are just yelling at air, trying to impress strangers with what good people we are, knowing full well that when Ware first hit the deck on Sunday afternoon, we were all saying the same, perverse thing:
Show the replay.