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Catching a bad break
Kevin Ware, a sophomore guard for the University of Louisville Cardinals, leaped to contest a shot during a March 30 game, and when he landed, his right leg buckled against the floor in a hideous fashion. Fans, players and coaches all stared in shock at the gruesome sight of his right leg twisted in half, dangling at a frightening angle.
It was ugly. I’m not too sure what a tibia is, but I never want to see one again. I have yet to see a person watch the video without making an ungodly noise or squirming in their seat, yet the media disseminated the replay like Perez Hilton would flog a celebrity sex tape, exploiting Ware’s horrific accident to attract website traffic.
The injury occurred during the NCAA national basketball March Madness tournament, which millions of fans follow. This specific game was between the Duke University Blue Devils and the Cardinals, two of the Elite Eight schools remaining in the tournament. Louisville went on to win 85–63 in front of a crowd chanting, “Ke-vin, Ke-vin” to move on to the hallowed Final Four.
CBS’ footage of the incident, which has since been plastered all over YouTube, was very conservative, zooming out after the injury happened and instead focusing on the distraught facial expressions of Ware’s teammates and coaches. CBS only showed the replay twice, at very wide angles, and network announcers handled the trauma with grace. The network also opted not to show the replay after the original game broadcast.
The video’s shock value and large-scale exposure were the perfect ingredients for a viral video. All it took was one zealous couch potato with a DVR to post the video of the injury to YouTube for viewers to share their first reactions to the leg whipping in various directions like one of those car dealership blowup dolls.
As a result of the video’s immediate Internet fame, media outlets rushed to get the story out, and in doing so handled the injury questionably—some choosing not to air it while others linked the video to their websites. The injury is very graphic, so why did the media treat the story like some viral meme? They should have put up a disclaimer, run the short clip and moved on to the next story. However, some news organizations weren’t so sensitive about using the footage.
As soon as the video was up on the web, Yahoo News made the story its featured selection on the main page, inviting millions of clicks from curious browsers. Even worse, Yahoo GIF’d the injury, meaning it was on automatic playback as soon as the reader, scrolled down to see it. There’s a special circle of hell for people who use a student-athlete’s gruesome injury to generate more online advertising revenue. Other outlets, like USA Today and SB Nation, a popular sports blogging network, both tweeted they would intentionally not GIF the graphic to respect their readers’ sensitivity.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was ESPN’s restraint in pursuing the low-hanging fruit of the injury video. The “Worldwide Leader
in Sports” could have easily exploded the story into a “Top 10 Gruesome Injuries” segment or corny sports science breakdown, as it often does.
USA Today published an article April 2 detailing how Ware’s medical bills would be split between the school and his family. Imagine if Ware burnt his tongue on hot coffee—the New Yorker might send a feature writer to shadow him for three weeks.
Doctors said Ware should be back to jumping on the court in about a year and will most likely rehabilitate faster than Chicago’s own Derrick Rose, who tore his ACL on April 28, 2012 and is still recovering, according to an April 1 ABCnews.com report.
News outlets weren’t the only ones to fervently pick up on the story. The Internet exploded over it, gushing about the injury and flooding Ware’s social media pages with prayers and shout-outs. Ware received Twitter well wishes from Lil Wayne, Matt Lauer and Joe Theismann, who suffered a similar graphic injury during a Monday Night Football game in 1985.
Thousands of tweeters wished Ware a speedy recovery from the injury, and judging by most of their reactions, you would’ve thought someone was tossed in the Oscar Meyer meat processor. The Twitter pity fest raged for days after the injury, as everyone and their mother felt it necessary to tell Ware how sorry they were.
But Ware deserves more than being patronized by the media or being known only as the unfortunate victim of a freak accident.
I’m sure Ware, more than anyone, wishes he landed normally on that routine chase down, a move college players do hundreds of times every season. An April 1 ABCnews.com report said that while the bone was protruding a couple of inches out of his leg, he told Head Coach Rick Pitino, “Win the game, win the game,” unconcerned about his own well-being. You know he wanted to finish the tournament with his team and be acknowledged for his performance on the court, not the images of him writhing in pain.
Although Ware went from relatively unknown to viral sensation in a matter of minutes, his injury is not what defines his self worth.
Now most notably recognized as the dude who broke his leg or “Tiny Tim,” Ware will forever live with his most polarizing athletic moment being him writhing on the floor. After the media milked his dangly appendage for every click they could, even Ware has to
be asking himself, “Will people ever identify with me with something other than a freak injury?”