Shattering perspective

Good Lord.

I'm still recovering from the Louisville-Duke game, though its emotional impact had little to do with the final score (Louisville 85, Duke 63). In one of the most horrible sports injuries you'll ever see, Cardinals guard Kevin Ware broke his leg on an awkward landing, snapping his shin bone and crumpling to the court near the Louisville sideline. Video replays, which I'm not going to link to but which you can find on Deadspin, showed immediate, visceral reactions from both teams, with players on the bench and fans in the first row of seats above it recoiling from the sight of Ware's exposed bone.

Teammate Wayne Blackshear fell to the court, crying, while Chane Behanan knelt nearby, nausea apparent on his face. Louisville coach Rick Pitino wiped away tears, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, along with several of his players, was also visibly upset.

CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson reported Ware, who was resting comfortably and being prepped for surgery at an Indianapolis hospital at this writing, told his teammates as he was wheeled out of the arena on a stretcher not to worry about him and to focus on beating the Blue Devils. (I'm no fan of sideline reporters, but Wolfson did a good job, providing useful information instead of just sticking a microphone in a coach's face at halftime to ask what was working so well for his offense.)

The Cardinals did Ware's bidding, reportedly returning to the court with seven minutes still left in the halftime break, and then putting Duke away with an impressive 22-6 run midway through the second half, breaking open a 42-42 tie. 

"We won this for him," Pitino told Wolfson after the game. " ... All he kept yelling was, 'Win the game!' ... We're all distraught, and all he kept yelling was, 'Win the game!' "

I didn't see the Ware injury happen in real time, as I was in another room. I did choose to watch the video. The journalist that will always be a part of who I am had to see it for myself, and aside from the gruesome angle of Ware's leg (which drew a sympathetic tweet from none other than Joe Theismann), the most striking thing is the emotion overwhelming what, it would behoove us to remember, is a bunch of kids.

I don't know what Pitino said at halftime, but the Cardinals were able to channel that emotion in the second half of a victory no doubt inspired by their fallen teammate. A bittersweet footnote is that with the win, Louisville moves on to the Final Four, which will be played in Ware's hometown of Atlanta.

Instantaneous Twitter debate sprang up about the coverage of the injury, both on the part of CBS and social media. SB Nation chose not to deliver one of its compressed, easily readable GIF files of the injury, while Yahoo did. CBS did not show a replay of the injury during its halftime show, though I'm told two were shown after the play, and the network did not cut to commercial as the emotional tableau played out around a prone Ware.

I support the latter decision. Cameras were not zoomed in on Ware's face; rather, they were capturing powerfully raw and real reactions from his teammates and throughout the arena. That's good journalism. Bad things happen; they have to covered, and that was done, in my opinion, respectfully. Given the incredible buzz the injury generated, though, I think I, wearing my network executive hat, would have shown one replay at the start of the halftime show, complete with a strong warning about the graphic content. It's newsworthy, and you're a news network.

This Salon.com article by David Sirota provides more perspective about what could happen to Ware, and his scholarship, in the wake of his injury. 

I saw Theismann's leg snap under the unimaginable force of a hard-charging Lawrence Taylor, whose reaction was also indelible to that now-iconic footage, as he immediately leaped up and began frantically waving for help. I saw Pirates catcher Jason Kendall's ankle dislocate horrifically as he sped down the first-base line - and the steps his momentum forced him to take after it happened. I've seen a promising high school football player show me the scars from the surgery to repair his tibia-fibula fracture (which may have been the injury Ware suffered) and cringed to hear his matter-of-fact description of what bones were put back where. I've heard a high school wrestler, reaching for better leverage against his opponent, suddenly scream as he stared at the compound fracture visible under the skin of his arm.

Sports is violence, as we're often reminded (whether we chose to listen or not) in the NFL, where players' brains are being dissected for clues after their suicides. For all the talk of the increasing physicality in basketball, you still don't expect to see something like what happened to Ware (the NCAA will cover his medical expenses, to a point, but he is not entitled, as a "student-athlete." to any compensation, and could lose his scholarship.) I hope we never see it again. But we would do well to remember it's possible, a chance the players take when they step on the court, a risk we implicitly encourage with our money and TV viewing habits. It's understandable to want to look away. But it's important to still see.

In much less consequential news, this section of my bracket is intact, just the way I drew it up. Louisville is my national champion, though none of my other Final Four teams did me the courtesy of making it that far. So, on we go to Atlanta. Here's hoping the chaos the rest of the way is confined to the play on the court.