How ESPN sent a stampede over Damar Hamlin’s sudden meltdown


New York
CNN

“Sport is important. And suddenly that didn’t happen.”

Those were the salient words of “SportsCenter” host Scott Van Pelt Monday night after Damar Hamlin suddenly collapsed On the field while the stakes are high Bengals bills game. Within moments, Van Pelt knew that The injury was very different than those that usually live in the football field.

ESPN quickly cut it to a commercial break after Horrific crash His fellow players were left in tears as millions watched anxiously at home. But inside the Washington “nerve center” of the venerable sports program where Van Pelt was watching the game, he had access to an internal ESPN feed that showed what was happening on the field.

“It so happened that the only screen I could see showed the reaction of the medical staff and it was clearly not a typical response,” Van Pelt told me on the phone Tuesday. “I just said, ‘This looks really bad.’ And someone in the room asked me why. And I said, ‘Look at their response. We were all silent and watching. And I was scared.'”

Later in the evening, after Joe Buck and Troy Aikman finished their broadcasts, hosting duties fell to Van Pelt. The game was officially called, but there was still little information about the condition of Hamelin, who was rushed from the field to the hospital in an ambulance. Van Pelt, who usually hosts a fun show with a “loose and weary” style that focuses on the game’s brighter moments, has been tasked with anchoring the nation’s biggest news event.

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“I don’t work for a news network that covers traumatic events as they happen,” Van Pelt told me. “I’m supposed to come when the game is over and talk about the great plays and it’s a lot of fun. That’s what we do. And last night that wasn’t what we did.”

Van Pelt added, “This is supposed to be a fun show. We’re the diversion. There’s a lot of serious shit in the world, but we’re here for fun. That’s what we do. But we’re also capable of covering something serious.”

Van Pelt said he made the decision to focus heavily on known facts before he went on the air. “I kept leaning towards what we know,” he said. “We will deal with what we know, not with what we wish to know or hope to discover. The truth is that we know very little.”

The decision to engage in zero-sum speculation meant that Van Pelt did not want to bring in a medical analyst or physician for the discussion What might have caused Hamelin’s sudden collapse?as did other news networks such as CNN and MSNBC during their breaking news coverage.

“My personal preference was that I didn’t want to bring in a doctor for a prognosis,” Van Pelt told me. “I totally see the other side, where a doctor’s well-trained eye might recognize something that might make perfect sense. But I just didn’t want to speculate.”

Instead, Van Pelt relied largely on an initial conversation with former NFL player Ryan Clark, who also suffered a medical emergency while playing in the league. “Tonight we saw a very ugly side of football,” Clarke commented to Van Pelt in a chat that enthralled viewers. “A side of football that no one wants to see or acknowledge exists.”

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“In the absence of information, I felt like Ryan’s point and his words were so powerful, it was something we kept leaning on, as well as any updates we could get,” Van Pelt told me.

When he was on the air, Van Pelt said, he felt a sense of calm “because the seriousness of the situation was as clear as it could be.”

While Hamlin remained sedated Tuesday at a Cincinnati hospital, Van Pelt said he was proud of the coverage ESPN gave viewers.

“We tried to be respectful and we tried to be respectful and do our best to share what we know,” he said. “And that’s what we did.”

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