Aside from the miracle runs by Florida Golf Coast University and Philly’s own La Salle Explorers, this year’s NCAA mens’ basketball tournament had been relatively uneventful- that is, until Sunday night, when a national television audience witnessed one of the most horrific and devastating injuries in the history of televised sports.
Kevin Ware, a guard for Louisville, was defending a shot from a Duke player when he landed awkwardly on the side of the court. Ware suffered a compound fracture of his tibia, and bone was actually protruding from his leg. It was probably the most gruesome injury in a televised basketball game since that moment in the 2006 Big East tournament, when Villanova player Allan Ray’s eye appeared to pop out of its socket for a brief moment.
Ware’s injury actually turned into something of an inspirational story, as Louisville fought to win the game and secure a Final Four berth, with the team rallying around their fallen teammate, and even bringing him the regional championship trophy to hold in his hospital room that night.
Ware has since undergone surgery, was released from the hospital, and plans to join his teammates at the Final Four in Atlanta this weekend. Louisville coach Rick Pitino said in a postgame interview—right before he accidentally gave the camera the finger—that he expects Ware’s rehab to take a year, and for the sophomore to be able to continue his basketball career.
I thought CBS handled the situation pretty well, at least better than other networks have in similar situations in the past. The directors of the broadcast treated it with appropriate gravity, and once they realized how bad it was, did not linger too closely on Ware himself.
The replay was shown, although not in slow motion or in closeup. Instead, the broadcast focused on the horrified reactions of both Ware’s teammates and opponents, all of whom were visibly shaken by what they were witnessing, which turned out to be a more compelling image anyway. Those with morbid curiosity, however, could pretty easily find the footage online.
I couldn’t help but contrast the outpouring of support and sympathy for Ware with an unfortunate tendency in recent years for sports fans and media members to essentially criticize athletes for being injured, often questioning their toughness or their masculinity, calling them “soft,” and even judging whether they’re really as injured as they say they are.
The worst example of all was Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, vilified for coming out of the NFC championship game three years ago with a sprained MCL. Closer to home, there’s Andrew Bynum, the star big man acquired by the Sixers last summer to great fanfare who, after fits and starts, ended up missing the entire season due to a series of knee injuries.
Bynum, for a variety of reasons, is not an especially sympathetic figure. His career has been very checkered, and since arriving in Philly, he has said and done many of the wrong things: bowling, and being photographed at strip clubs and getting into and out of expensive cars. Whatever media training the Sixers give their players—which I imagine begins with “never call the fans anything except “passionate”—Bynum doesn’t appear to have absorbed. And it’s hard not to resent a guy who got paid nearly $17 million this year to not do his job.
But from many frustrated Sixers fans, I see a stated or unstated assumption that Bynum has either lied about the severity of his injury, or that he could have played and just chose not to. I’ve seen no evidence at all that either is the case. Anger might better be directed at the Sixers themselves, for giving constant updates of Bynum’s imminent return, which didn’t turn out to be quite so imminent.
Even if we’re ascribing Bynum with complete selfishness, the guy’s about to be a free agent, and had every incentive in the world to get back on the court to make an impression on potential teams. If he were able to come back and play before the end of the season, I think he would have.
Of course, it’s always a lot easier to talk about injuries when it’s someone else’s pain as opposed to your own. I remember, on an Eagles Sunday a couple of years ago, one local radio guy chiding Michael Vick for missing that day’s game with a rib injury, as though that host, had he sustained a broken rib or two, could’ve made it to the end of the pre-game show.
The attitude that resents injured athletes—and the “rub some dirt on it” culture it grows from—is silly and destructive, especially in this age of concussions and other catastrophic injuries that leave a whole lot of ex-athletes crippled, brain-damaged or even dead way before their time. What the Ware episode shows is that it’s a lot easier for fans to have sympathy for an injured player when they have seen the injury with their own eyes, on national television.
That said, if Kevin Ware makes it back onto a basketball court before Andrew Bynum does, I won’t be the slightest bit surprised.