When the Georgian flag proudly waved before thousands of people on Friday, Feb. 12, at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, it flew heavy with the weight of unexpected sadness. Hours before, a Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, died after he was thrown from his sled during his final practice run at the Whistler Olympic Bobsled Track. He was 21 years old.
Sadness over this tragedy was followed by a different kind of emotion: disgust. Audiences have since complained that it was inappropriate for NBC to show the footage of the luger’s accident. Countless families, many with children, turned on their televisions on Friday night in excitement and anticipation, only to witness Kumaritashvili being thrown from his sled, over the “retaining” wall, and into a steel beam. This unsettling footage was replayed three times in a matter of 15 minutes and was also accompanied by a bloody image of a medical team attempting to revive the injured man.
“We take the responsibility of covering news very seriously and understood the gravity of the situation,” said Chris McCloskey, vice president of communications for NBC Sports and Olympics. To completely ignore the death would surely be a mistake. It is owed to Kumaritashvili, to his family, his team, his country and his sport to honor his memory. But this footage was not a necessary part of such a tribute. NBC crossed the line by repeatedly showing this young man’s death on network television, as if the “gravity of the situation” needed further emphasis. Yet I do not completely fault them for what they did. It has now become commonplace for the media to ignore all barriers of decency in the attempt to draw in viewers.
We must see beyond the glass of the television screen that divides us from reality. This was not an episode of Grey’s Anatomy; we were watching the final moments of someone’s life. Would most not shield their children’s eyes from a horrific car accident that sent the driver flying from his vehicle to a bloody death? Witnessing such a scene is something most would avoid, but instead NBC showed it to a wide audience, preying upon our strange and inexplicable fascination with tragedy.
But the main reason why the footage shouldn’t have been shown is not an entirely logical one. Broadcasting it seemed to tread upon an understood line of respect. Though NBC may have owned the legal rights to the footage, Kumaritashvili’s family and friends should maintain the right to decide whether or not the moments of his death are made irreversibly public. Furthermore, it is an unspoken tragedy that an athlete seeking Olympic glory shall instead be etched in the minds of the viewers purely in this gruesome manner.
Junior voice performance major