Perrine: When Media Got It Right

The race to be first has permeated American culture, where media, reporters, journalists, and talking heads give reactionary opinions without much information. We have become accustomed to the immediacy of information and perspective on it, but what the world saw on Monday Night Football is where journalists, reporters, and analysts got it right.

In the immediate aftermath of Buffalo Bills Safety, 24-year-old Damar Hamlin’s medical emergency, the entire game day crew stayed poised and focused on the seriousness of the situation. The Monday Night Football crew and ESPN processed the tragedy in real-time and kept the focus where it should be - the health and well-being of Damar.

I’m a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan and a politico with an opinion. I’ve been critical of sports journalists’ coziness with players, owners, and general managers and how it can cloud objective reporting, so I feel it’s important to give kudos when and where the media gets it right.

Monday night Damar Hamlin looked to make what appeared to be a routine tackle. He stood up from the play and immediately fell to the ground again. Confusion abounded for fans watching at home, but the seriousness of the situation became quickly apparent as play-by-play announcer Joe Buck and his broadcast partner Troy Aikman returned from their first commercial break after the hit.

The world saw a circle of players around Damar, an ambulance, and the faces of world-class athletes distraught with fear.

As the emergency of saving Damar’s life unfolded on national television, the Monday Night Football team did an exceptional job of not speculating but laying out the facts as they knew them. The camera crew tended to keep shots wide, and we did not see a close-up of the ambulance or the emergency medical personnel working to save a young man’s life. Some of that was from players surrounding Damar to protect the view, and some of it was the conscious decision of the production crew.

The broadcast team immediately struck a somber tone, and the in-studio crew at ESPN did a great job humanizing the situation unfolding in real time. Former NFL player Ryan Clark shared his insight of these men on a field playing a game they love while risking their lives and well-being. ESPN staples Suzy Kolber and Scott Van Pelt each ushered an open conversation as a true masterclass in being human and a journalist. Booger McFarland, a former NFL tackle, brought his perspective from his time on the gridiron, and every single soul sitting in Bristol, CT, made Damar - the son, brother, and teammate - the focus.

Of all this exceptional journalism and conversation, sideline reporter Lisa Salters' commentary on what she witnessed firsthand from both teams, their coaches, the medical personnel, the referees, and the staff while showing her emotion and doing her job was unparalleled.

So often, the viciousness in a news cycle's immediacy drowns out the human impact of a situation. That did not happen on Monday night or indeed the time since then. Yes, a few detractors will always dissent and offer unsavory takes on a life-or-death situation, but the media overall got it right.

We saw a crew of experienced professionals dealing with a never-before-seen situation in real time and handling it with humility and grace. We’ve witnessed hosts and analysts offer prayers on-air and speak of their faith in a higher power. And we have seen the NFL fanbase, sports community, and beyond stand together in prayer for Damar Hamlin, with every single NFL team changing its Twitter picture to a blue number 3 and the words, “Pray for Damar.”

ESPN and the general totality of the news community deserve our thanks and respect for focusing on Damar and sharing his story. Damar had a rough childhood and has fought every day to bring a better life for his family and his community.

Keep Damar in your prayers because he is still in the fight of his life. Humanity matters, and so does thoughtfully covering the news. It’s easy to be critical of opponents, but maybe Damar’s situation can usher in a new era of people first reporting to media and journalism.

Erin Perrine is the Communications Director at Clout Public Affairs and Independent Women's Forum Visiting Fellow