At one point on Monday night, not long after Damar Hamlin’s horrific injury, Scott Van Pelt introduced a reporter who was giving a live update from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
I didn’t write exactly what Van Pelt said, but by way of introduction, it was words to this effect: We deal with what we know, not with what we want to be true. So what do we know now?
We’re going to be showing the first few hours of ESPN’s Monday night coverage for decades on journalism shows. From the time Hamlin was injured until just after 11 p.m.
There were no speculations. No rumors. It was not reported what was speculated on Twitter. Just honest conversations, direct reports, real human emotions.
The whole team handled it well. From Joe Buck and Troy Aikmen in the booth, to Suzy Kolber, Booger McFarland and Adam Schefter in the studio. When the broadcast first went into the studio and we watched Kolber, McFarland and Schefter near tears in stunned silence, the enormity of the moment sank even further. Thanks to Kolber and McFarland for openly criticizing the NFL for taking so long to cancel the game.
Then Van Pelt came in. He interviewed Lisa Salters, the reporter on the field, and… my God. Saulters’s voice trembled with emotion but she recounted what she saw, what she heard, both in the field and in the tunnel. She broke the news, but never lost the humanity of the moment. Her report helped fill in the gaps and gave us all responsibility for the information, but with the emotion that she denied the moment.
Van Pelt and Ryan Clark… you’re seeing their videos all over the internet, for good reason.
Good, proper journalism never loses the humanity of the people involved, and ESPN focused on that.
Kudos to Van Pelt for encouraging everyone to talk about how they feel. Joe Buck, speaking to Van Pelt, said that he “felt sick to my stomach, not that anybody cares how I feel.” It was an understandable comment from Buck. The night isn’t about him, it’s about Hamlin. But it also reflected the journalistic ideal of withdrawing and detaching from the story. It’s not about me. I’m just here, telling you what happened.
Van Pelt immediately kindly but firmly dismissed Buck’s comment. Not in a bad way, but in a supportive way. No, he was saying, your perspective matters. He’s covered the NFL his whole life, he’s seen serious injuries before, this is different, so his reaction is important. It helps tell the story of the night. But most importantly, you are a human being. You have a human reaction and human emotions, and you are allowed to have them, and they are valid.
Reporters are not robots, they are also people. Your perspective matters, and it showed.
You can join the Damar Hamlin GoFundMe here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/mxksc-the-chasing-ms-foundation-community-toy-drive