Jim Nantz is not a man who’s often at a loss for words.
The CBS sportscaster is not only a smooth play-by-play guy and interviewer, but he’s a great interview who’s smart and quotable.
But a day after Nantz witnessed the horrific compound leg fracture suffered by Louisville guard Kevin Ware during the Cardinals’ NCAA tournament matchup against Duke, Nantz approached the subject haltingly. Gingerly. With great emotion in his voice.
“I have never seen anything like that before,” said Nantz, who’s been at CBS since he left KSL in 1985. “And when you’re there and you’re that close to it, it’s really hard to get the image out of my mind. You kind of replay it in your head over and over again.”
But, much to its credit, CBS did not replay the injury over and over again There were a grand total of two replays,
“It almost took the second replay for it actually to sink in what it was you were seeing,” said CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus. “And I think once everybody realized that, everybody at CBS was in agreement that we had done it long enough.”
It was, in a word, gruesome. So gruesome that it will be talked about for years — decades — to come. It’s been more than 27 years since Joe Theisman suffered a horrible broken leg in a Redskins-Giants game, and no one who saw it will ever forget it.
“We see football injuries, but football players have pads on,” Nantz said. “But basketball — you’re so exposed.
“And for it to happen right in front of his teammates, right by the bench ...” he said, his voice trailing off.
CBS’ footage of the shocked reaction of Ware’s teammates and of Louisville coach Rick Pittino wiping tears from his eyes told the story. The tone in the voices of Nantz and his broadcast partner, Clark Kellogg, conveyed as much as repeated replays could.
Remarkably, CBS has been criticized in some quarters for showing too few replays of the broken bone jutting through Ware’s skin. That’s idiotic, but it’s also predictable.
“I knew when we made the decision [to halt replays] there would be people who would say, ‘Boy, you probably should have done it more. It is part of the story. As horrific as it is, you’re there to document the scene,’ ” McManus said. “But in today’s world, if you want to see a piece of video … there are myriad ways to do that.”
Just check out YouTube to see how many million views the footage has gotten. (A quick search on the web will take you to the video.)
But there’s a big difference between making a conscious decision to watch it — for whatever reason — and having CBS put it on the public airwaves again and again, as some of the network’s detractors seem to have wished.
“If you want to see the footage, you can see it in about three seconds on any computer in America or any iPhone or tablet,” said McManus, who had absolutely no second thoughts about his decision.
“It was a relatively easy call to make because of the gruesome nature of the injury,” he said. “I think that decision was the right one.”
Nantz, for one, won’t be watching the replay again. He doesn’t have to. He was there.
“It’s just one of those things that you hope you never have to be put in that situation again,” he said. “Your heart just went out to that kid. I’m so happy to hear that he’s doing well and he’s going to be on the bench with Louisville come Saturday.”
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.