At one point Monday night, not long after Damar Hamlin’s horrific injury, Scott Van Pelt introduced a reporter who was providing live updates from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
I didn’t write down exactly what Van Pelt said, but as an introduction, it was: We deal with what we know, not what we want to be true. So what do we know now?
We’re about to teach the first few hours of Monday night ESPN coverage in decades of journalism programs. From the time Hamlin was injured until shortly after 11:00 PM EST when it was announced there would be no updates from the hospital, ESPN delivered a masterclass in reporting and coverage of an incredibly tragic story.
There was no speculation. No rumors. There is no message about the tweeter being manipulated. Just honest conversations, straight reporting, real human feelings.
The whole team did well. From Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the booth to Suzy Colbert, Booger McFarland and Adam Schefter in the studio. When the broadcast first cut to the studio and we saw Colbert, McFarland and Schefter crying in stunned silence, the enormity of the moment deepened. Kudos to Colbert and McFarland, who both openly criticized the NFL for taking so long to cancel the game.
Then Van Pelt came on. He interviewed Lisa Salters, a reporter in the field, and … Oh my God. Zolters’ voice shook with emotion, but he told what he saw, what he heard, both on the field and in the tunnel. His reporting helped fill in the gaps and give us all informed accountability, but with emotions that belied the moment.
Van Pelt and Ryan Clark… you see their videos all over the web, for good reason.
Good and 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 he was “sick to my stomach, not that anybody cares how I feel.” It was an understandable comment on Buck’s part. The night isn’t about him, it’s about Hamlin. But it also reflected the journalistic ideal of standing back and away from the story. It’s not about me. I’m just here to tell you what happened.
Van Pelt immediately, politely but firmly, pushed back on Buck’s comment. Not in a mean way, but in a supportive way. No, he said, your point of view is important. You’ve covered the NFL your whole life, you’ve seen serious injuries before, this is different, so your reaction is important. It helps tell the story of the night. But more importantly, you are human. You have a human reaction and human emotions and you are allowed to have them and they are valid.
Journalists are not robots, they are people too. Their perspective matters, and it showed.
You can check out Damar Hamlin’s GoFundMe here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/mxksc-the-chasing-ms-foundation-community-toy-drive