Kevin Ware's Broken Leg Unleashes Twitter Morality Play
Today Kevin Ware broke his leg and Twitter lost its mind.
In a post-game interview Rick Pitino said that Ware broke his leg in two places, it would take him a year to recover and that even while Ware's bone was sticking out of his leg he was yelling, "Win the game!"
Ware's injury was the story of the Louisville-Duke game, but what was also interesting was the online morality play that unspooled in the immediate moments after Ware's injury. Several sites, including SB Nation and USA Today, refused to post a gif of the injury, CBS elected not to replay the injury at halftime, Pete Thamel of SI Tweeted a link to a story about Kevin Ware's recruitment getting Central Florida on probation, and when I tweeted the video link to Ware's injury some reacted as if I'd just passed out Easter eggs laced with Ebola to neighborhood children.
I immediately got an email with a subject reading, "Your such an assbag." (Seriously, I can't even make up things like this).
I want to unpack all of these different threads surrounding the Kevin Ware injury because they all became stories in themselves, a real life fast-paced window into modern sports media.
In particular, what I call fauxrage rapidly took over on Twitter and other social media site. Fauxrage is distinguished from actual outrage because it's more for show than it is legitimate outrage. For whatever reason masses of people feel the need to adopt a holier than thou persona and castigate others who are not deemed to show enough deference or "class" to a particular situation. (Social media's obsession with "class" or being "classy" is worthy of a story in its own right. Who knew that Ann Landers and Dear Abby would have such an influence on Twitter? The class police are everywhere online. And when the class police unite with the offended pearl clutching masses, well, we all lose. And for a variety of reasons that happened today with Ware's injury.)
Ware's injury was bad, but he didn't step on an IED in Afghanistan and lose his leg like countless 19 year olds have done in the past years and months. He hurt himself playing basketball in a gruesome manner. That's unfortunate, but was Ware's injury any more unfortunate or gruesome than Marcus Lattimore's past two injuries or Tyrone Prothro's gruesome injury against Florida or, for that matter, Joe Theismann's grotesque injury on the football field that opens the Oscar winning film, "The Blind Side?"
How many of y'all looked away from Theismann's injury or gagged on your popcorn or ridiculed Hollywood for their classless decision to slow down a horrific injury to begin a movie? Remember that close-up of an injury took place on a massive film screen being aired as part of a hundred million dollar movie for profit. Did anyone at all object to Theismann's graphic leg injury being shown in the movie? I haven't heard of a single person complaining.
Certainly, the scene is powerful and goes a long way towards explaining the conceit of the movie, that there is value in protecting a person's blind side in football. And in life.
If you haven't seen the opening to, "The Blind Side," movie, watch it here.
As you can see, that injury is graphic as hell and rendered in slow motion.
It's hard to watch.
And it set the tone for an Oscar-winning film that is the most lucrative sports movie of all time.
Last fall I linked to Marcus Lattimore's knee injury immediately after it happened. Hardly anyone complained. What's more, I even linked to my piece from a year earlier when Lattimore had been injured arguing that requiring football players to stay in college was immoral given the risk that athletes face. I firmly believe this. If Ware was a surefire lottery pick who had been forced to play college basketball this year, can you imagine the story angles that would flow from this injury? I firmly believe that if you're 18 years old you should be able to make a living as a pro athlete if you so desire.
My point in discussing all this background is to point out that while Ware's injury was tough to watch, it wasn't necessarily any worse than lots of sports injuries that have been replayed hundreds of thousands of times on television in the past. Or, in particular, no worse than a leg injury that recently began a major Oscar winning film.
So why did Ware's injury suddenly turn Twitter into the injury police?
I think it's because Twitter is an emotional place filled with tons of sheep, at its best Twitter spreads news and analysis in rapid fire fashion. At its worst it creates a scary and immediate groupthink that most don't challenge.
Before we go any further I will now link the YouTube video of the minute surrounding Ware's injury.
If you don't want to see the video, don't click play. If you haven't seen it, you'll probably want to watch to read on about the sports media reaction to the injury.
Now I'll explain why I linked Ware's injury.
1. It's the biggest story from the game and it's news.
The story that most people will care about from this game is Kevin Ware's injury. Lots of people were not watching live. Since CBS never reaired the injury, millions of people who heard about the injury on social media wondered what actually happened and wanted to see it for themselves. What's more, linking the entire minute of the surrounding broadcast allows others to see the impact that Ware's injury had on his teammates. It also allows you to see one teammate holding Ware's hand throughout the ordeal. That's compelling and gripping television.
The injury is bad, but isn't the teammate's reaction an equally heartwarming story? These guys on both sides of the court showed a great deal of common humanity, the kind of competitive spirit we'd like to believe all athletes would show in the event of an injury such as this. If anything, the player reaction to the injury has been underplayed.
The actual injury is a few seconds, the reaction is more than a minute.
So when I watched this video -- that I couldn't find anywhere else including the CBS halftime show -- I made the immediate decision to retweet it so others who hadn't seen it live could watch it anew.
I did this knowing that the Twitter fauxrage was already strong and that I'd likely get angry responses. But even I was shocked by the number of angry responses I received. That's even though I tweeted a warning to those that might be squeamish that it was a graphic injury.
It's not my job to decide what you choose to watch or read.
The only decision I made was this, "Would I want someone to link this video if they had my job and I followed them on Twitter?"
And I would, I'd want the opportunity to see the injury for myself.
So I linked it.
If you think it's in poor taste to watch a basketball injury, that's fine, but why should your opinion dictate the ability of others to view or read something? That's the most frustrating and scary thing about the fauxrage crowd, they want to censor what others can see, hear, or experience. I don't understand -- and probably never will understand -- why people aren't just content not to watch or read things that they don't like and let other people make their own decisions for themselves. If you're an adult, make your own decision, don't be a censorship sheep. I will always fight the censorship sheep. Always and forever.
I didn't even initially link the video on Outkick because I wanted to go ahead and give people the content as quickly as I could. So rather than post it inside Outkick, I just retweeted the YouTube link. The only other writer I follow who Tweeted the link was ESPN's Jemele Hill.
She was also castigated for doing so.
(The Big Lead tweeted the gif, which I watched as well. But as I've already told you, I thought the video was a more complete version of the story).
The more interesting story to me is this -- why didn't more media link the injury video since everyone was Tweeting about the injury? I think it's because a lot of people were scared of the Twitter mob reaction which was already busy tarring and feathering SI's Pete Thamel.
2. CBS chose not to replay the injury at halftime.
I think this was the wrong decision.
Lots of people, including my wife, sat down to learn more about the injury at halftime and weren't watching the game live.
Ware's injury was THE story at halftime.
Greg Gumbel is an adept studio host. CBS should have had him say, "We realize this injury is upsetting to many of you, but it's a significant part of the game and we are now going to air it for viewers who may have missed the injury earlier. If you don't want to see it, look away. The footage will only last four seconds. We also want you to see how his teammates reacted. They clearly love their teammate."
That would have been the appropriate way to cover this.
Instead, CBS chose to take the easy way out and allow the fauxrage to win.
Yes, CBS would have been criticized, but when you're criticized for making the right decision, don't you have to live with it?
3. SB Nation and USA Today, along with a few other sites, chose not to make the injury a gif.
They tweeted this: "So has @usatodaysports. Right thing to do. RT @sbnation We've made an executive decision not to gif that Ware injury."
That's an interesting decision, but I'm not sure why you'd want to reduce this injury to a gif anyway. (A gif is basically a short moving image that lasts a few seconds and gets to the heart of a clip or highlight). The story here is the injury and the reaction to the injury.
You should post the entire video of the injury not a gif of the injury, that's the smart thing to do from a journalistic perspective. The injury and the reaction is the story, not just the injury.
I also don't know why you need to publicize your decision not to make a gif. If you feel that strongly about it couldn't you just not put it up on the site. Making a show of announcing that you're not doing it makes it appear as though you're bending to the will of the fauxrage crowd and attempting to curry favor with the masses.
Oh, how noble, they're not making a gif of this.
But they made a gif of Michigan's player getting punched in the balls yesterday. So at least we know ball punching is firmly in the okay to gif category while broken leg is not.
In general I'm not that big of a fan of gifs anyway because absent a really good article surrounding them, they don't have much substance. They're perfect for a quick glance on Twitter, but do you really need to build an entire page around the gif? I'd just Tweet out a gif and let them die there on Twitter. Why do you need to build an entire page around a short picture? I don't believe I've ever had a gif as a post on Outkick. (A gif is also a curious legal question. Is it a copyright violation or is it fair use? For the law students reading this article -- and there are always a bunch of you -- this is a pretty fascinating area of the law to write about for your law review notes. It's still unsettled.)
The intent is understandable -- we don't want to make pageview money off a quick hitting injury gif -- but it's a pretty weak rationale. Suddenly, this injury is beyond the pale and morally unacceptable to turn into a gif? But it's okay to make money off all other gifs, like when a car crashes into the wall or when a batter gets knocked out by a pitch?
The intent here is to appease the fauxrage and embrace a holier than thou mantra.
But if you're willing to gif everything else, I'm not sure why you'd draw the line here.
Would SBNation and USA Today not gif Dale Earnhardt hitting a Daytona wall and dying?
Again, the guy got hurt playing a sport, let's not pretend he was diving off a 100 story building during a terrorist attack. (A news story video, mind you, that has aired tens of millions of times). A gif was perfectly acceptable here, but the video was a better call because it was better at illuminating the story.
4. Pete Thamel tweeted, "Kevin Ware has a wild backstory. His recruitment to UCF led, in part, to their probation. The backstory: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/30/sports"
And in the process he got crushed for this.
I mean, completely and totally destroyed on Twitter.
Go read what people are still sending to him.
I mean, Thamel didn't go Cobra Kai on Ware and break his leg from press row.
Within the same few minutes Thamel also Tweeted a ton of more "acceptable" tone Tweets about Pitino crying, the fact that ironically he hoped no one would gif the injury, that he hoped Ware would be okay, but it's that Tweet about Ware's recruitment scandal that made Thamel the social media bad guy. Thousands of people called for him to be fired, he was totally and completely crushed by tens of thousands of people on Twitter -- including actual death threats -- and a couple of hours later he took to Twitter and apologized with another Tweet, "In an earlier tweet, my sincere intent was simply to provide background on someone in the news. My thoughts are with Kevin Ware."
The irony of someone threatening to kill Thamel for not being sympathetic enough after Ware broke his leg is just mind-boggling.
So is Thamel Easter's anti-Christ?
No, of course not he just happened to have written the only national story about Kevin Ware. Prior to this injury no one had any idea about Ware at all. Twitter's immediate belief that Thamel was the anti-christ says much more about Twitter than it does about him. Thamel was guilty of three things that conspired to get him destroyed in social media:
1. Bad timing
He linked a negative story about Ware's recruitment within a couple of minutes of Ware's injury and that negative story had nothing to do with Ware's injury.
2. Linking his own story
If it had been someone else's story it wouldn't have looked so self-aggrandizing and page view driven. (The page view element of these Twitter attacks on Thamel are the dumbest possible attacks though. As if Thamel is sitting on a huge pile of gold coins as a result of his Tweet about Ware. Thamel linked to a story in a publication, the New York Times, that no longer even employs him. What's more, hardly anyone probably clicked on the link. I have a pretty good sense for Twitter traffic since I study it for Outkick. Maybe three or four thousand total clicked on this link. Probably not even that many. The clear intent here was to make people better understand who Kevin Ware was. If Thamel was trying to make money off Ware's injury, this was probably the least effective means available to him. Even if he was still employed by the New York Times, he isn't paid based on pageviews.)
3. The story was not positive
This is the biggest reason he got crushed. When a player is hurt, most people only want positive stories. If Thamel had linked his own story and it had been about Ware spending Christmas giving out turkeys to underprivileged kids, everyone would have retweeted it and Thamel would have been a social media hero. Instead, Thamel linked a negative story that he'd written while a player was still writhing in pain.
That struck many on Twitter as discordant. The tone was all wrong. So the fauxrage transferred to Thamel, people could voice their righteous indignation at someone else. No one caused Ware's injury, but Thamel was the insensitive asshole, he was the bad guy in a story about an injured good guy.
Basically, Thamel was insensitive at the completely wrong time.
Does that make Thamel an awful human being?
In the minds of Twitter, yes. In the minds of most people with a working brain, you'd just add this latest Tweet to the nearly 14,000 additional Tweets Thamel has sent over several years and make your own decision. No one is perfect when it comes to a real-time news story, but the fauxrage that now governs Twitter and social media means there has to be a bad guy. Thamel's the bad guy of the Kevin Ware story.
Someone else will be the next bad guy.
But all of us should think a bit more before we reflexively sensor actual news.
Yes, Ware's injury was gruesome, unfortunate, and ugly, but it was clearly news, and lots of news isn't pretty at all.