An immortal moment of broadcasting conscience on ESPN’s “SportsCenter”: The show was reporting on the death of Al Lucas, an arena football player who died in a game tonight after trying to make a tackle. One of the show’s anchors, Fred Hickman, read the item. As they got ready to show the clip of the play in which Lucas was fatally injured, Hickman said, “in the interest of decency, we invite you to look away.”
Then they played the tape.
The content of the video aside — uninterested as I am in ESPN’s notion of decency, I did not look away; the angle of the play they showed was just generic football rough stuff, a tangle of players hitting each other during a kickoff return — what a nauseating display of false piety and pandering: “Oh, we hate to do what we’re about to do; and you’ll hate us for it too — especially if you stoop to our level and watch what we’re about to put on the screen. For heaven’s sake, don’t watch this. It’s just horrible. Isn’t it? We’ll have a replay in 15 minutes. In the name of all that’s holy, please avoid it.”
I’m not saying ESPN or anyone else should refrain from showing the tape. Quite the contrary. The poor guy died in a public venue in the conduct of a sport that puts a premium on violence, even crippling violence, and ESPN promotes the voyeurism along with the rest of the media. So go ahead and roll the tape. Just spare us the solemnity. If ESPN had really wanted to make the kind of “in the interest of decency” statement it was pretending to make, the producers could have shelved the footage. What are the chances of that happening?