When Reel Life is Just Too Real

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On October 17th, the 2017/18 NBA season tipped off in typical form, game clock set to 48:00, all seeming status quo. My Boston Celtics were playing the Cleveland Cavaliers and it was the start of what *was a very promising year for the C’s. Then almost six minutes in, things took – quite literally – a very bad turn and pivot in the wrong direction.

One of the Celtics’ newest stars soared up to the hoop, landed awkwardly, crumpled in a heap and the ‘pop’ and subsequent screams were heard around the sports world. One of the announcers on TNT, the network that was broadcasting the much-hyped season debut, cried out: “Gordon Hayward has broken his leg! Oh my goodness, Gordon Hayward has broken his leg!” and watching the game miles away in New England, fans tried to absorb what was happening. It was evident that whatever it was, it was BAD. Really bad.

I’ve been a diehard Celtics lover since the age of 12 and have seen hundreds of basketball games. Players are always getting bumps and bruises, sprains and strains. I had never seen an injury of this magnitude unfolding on the screen right before my eyes in Game 1. And I give immense credit to TNT for their professional and graceful handling of a traumatic in-game occurrence. Typically when a player falls to the floor and looks ‘hurt’, it’s rarely awful and thus the cameras are focused on him for the drama and to stay relevant/in the moment for the viewer. There are those times, however, when you simply cannot show what is happening in real life to a media audience of millions.

For a very brief moment, the TNT camera crew panned to Hayward, his face covered in sheer agony and fear. Then, after realizing what had happened, they immediately and wisely cut away, darting the cameras in the other direction. His leg was defying biology, gravity, physics – you name it. It was gruesome, graphic and not appropriate to show. Arena personnel, trainers, coaches and medics formed a human barricade around the injured star to shield him from view.

Still though, this game, like any game, was a narrative. There was and always is a story to be told. TNT was able to tell that story in a meaningful way with some quick thinking in that production truck, and with efficient communication and understanding. Instead of trying to get more glimpses of Hayward, laying there helpless and immobile or replaying his fall ad nauseam, the network crew focused their efforts on capturing the feelings of others to bring viewers into the arena. They showed a player on the opposing team kneeling in prayer; they highlighted the eerily silent crowd, shocked and devastated; they showed close-ups of Hayward’s Celtics teammates crying in their huddle.

TNT did a beautiful job conveying action with reaction. They owed it to Hayward to not show him in a terrifying, vulnerable state. Yet still, they owed it to those watching at home to give an accurate portrayal of what was occurring on that court in Ohio. I couldn’t help but think of how difficult that must be for a TV network – to strike the balance between protecting and respecting the injured player while still offering viewers an authentic, visceral and compelling experience.

Live TV is live TV, for better or worse. I’ve always felt that sports (especially basketball, because the players’ faces are helmet-free and visible and the spectators are so close to the action) are an amazing microcosm of human behavior and emotional complexity. On Opening Night of the current NBA season, the gang at TNT did an outstanding job capturing, curating and expressing both.

Posted by Ilana

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