Leading viewers through post-Buffalo reporting Safety bills Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during the first quarter of Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, there was nothing that was described in the how-to.
Scott Van Pelt of ESPN said he knew what he needed to do on air in a traumatic situation – be calm, reasonable and share what is known with the audience.
“At that point, we were trying our best to be human,” Van Pelt said on Tuesday. We would try to do a great job with a great game and it would be a hell of a lot of fun, ‘t. That was the seriousness of it. And the severity of this was unusual.
ESPN first showed a couple of replays of Hamlin falling to the turf before moving on to commercials. It was no longer shown online for the duration of the coverage. Joe Buck was the first to warn viewers that medical personnel were performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
ESPN also kept their distance with their cameras as both teams huddled around Hamlin. ESPN had a Skycam but chose not to place it above the stage.
ESPN’s restraint showed how networks’ coverage of severe injuries during sporting events has evolved. Many still remember the constant replays of Washington quarterback Joe Theisman, who suffered a compound fracture in his right leg when he was fired by New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor on Monday Night Football in 1985.
From that point on, networks became more judicious in showing traumatic events, be it horrific player injuries or accidents during motorsport events, until the driver was vigilant.
While some wondered why ESPN didn’t call in a doctor for analysis, Van Pelt said there wasn’t enough information about what happened to Hamlin.
“I don’t see the point in guessing what it could be. I don’t know how we promote something,” he said.
St. Louis Blues and TNT analyst Darren Pang knows what Van Pelt means. Pang was on the bench in 2020 when St. Louis defenseman Jay Bowmister suffered a heart attack and passed out on the bench during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks.
Pang said the Blues crew had a workshop where they discussed things that could happen during the season. One scenario involved what happened when Dallas forward Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench during a game in 2014 due to an irregular heartbeat.
“I definitely saw more than I said, and it was because of the training that we were told. I’m not a doctor, so I didn’t want to make a mistake,” Pang said. “I saw the faces of the players and that was enough for me to understand how terrible the situation was.”
Buck said several times that the Bills would resume play after a five-minute warm-up period. There was footage of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow throwing some flashes of light, and Lisa Salters reported from the outside that Bills wide receiver Stephon Diggs was trying to make a speech, setting his team on fire.
Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, said a restart was not under consideration. ESPN said in a statement that there was constant communication between the network, the league and game officials. As per standard league protocol, the networks have a direct connection to the NFL throughout the game.
“As a result of this, we have communicated what we have been told at the moment and have immediately informed fans as new information becomes available. It was an unprecedented, rapidly evolving circumstance. We refrained from speculation all night,” ESPN said in a statement.
The best look at the night came from ESPN analyst Ryan Clark, who was hospitalized for an extended period in 2007 after suffering a spleen infarction.
“I’ve dealt with this before and I’ve watched my teammates come to my hospital bed for days and just cry. I got them to call me and say they didn’t think I would survive and now this team has to deal with it and they don’t have the answers,” Clarke said during a conversation with Van Pelt. “We must remember that these people are risking their lives to achieve their dream. And today, Damar Hamlin’s dream has become a nightmare not only for himself, but for his family and his team.”
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