MNF Life & Death in the Balance

MNF: Life & Death in the Balance–No Adults in the Room

This was the report from ESPN on the Buffalo and the Cincinnati Bengals game on Monday night: “In a chilling scene, CPR was administered to Bills safety Damar Hamlin on the field for multiple minutes after he collapsed following a play in the first quarter. He received oxygen, according to the ESPN broadcast, as he was placed in the ambulance and taken off the field some 16 minutes after he collapsed and driven to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.”

What was palpable in the sports coverage immediately following was the stunning inability of these respected, career, professional sports reporters, commentators, analysts and pundits to bring any sense of the bigger picture to an audience in the tens of millions, at a minimum. To be brutally honest, there was a level of “OMG, we’ve never seen anything like this before, and uhhhhh…” These icons of describing the ‘action as it happens’ were completely tongue-tied and visibly (not) dealing with their own emotions.

They were thrust into an opportunity for leadership–for themselves and for millions of viewers looking for something, anything–and booted it. (Remember Jim McKay’s brilliance at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. “They’re all gone.”) Comparatively (and it is incomparable), it was excruciating to watch and listen to the child-like comments, compounding the pall resulting from what the viewers had already witnessed themselves.

Leaders (and networks, and their pros) have to have a level of situational awareness (or developed intuition) and empathy for their primary audience (“team”) to contextualize the specific situation for them in the moment. We saw: Sad (very) faces, and heard, “I feel for them,” “I’ve been there…in the locker room” and prolonged silences; all exacerbated the rawness and emptiness that millions were already feeling.

I have much respect for Joe Buck and Troy Aikman and Suzy Kolber, and their colleagues. (If you watched it, Suzy got nothing from her “team.”) There was no “anchoring” for the audience. But someone needed to step up as the adult in the room to provide a larger context, and to balance the already deep sadness being legitimately felt for the player and his family. Instead, it was almost like, “Leave me alone: Can’t you see that I’m sad.” Scott van Pelt (and Ryan Clark, his highly thoughtful and self-possessed colleague) finally did this, but a lot of time had passed, as had the moment for a distinguishing contribution.

Leadership is about being prepared for moments when larger issues are at stake but can be connected to the lives of those who are witnesses. These are the “winning” moments in the life of an organization, and potential defining moments for leaders. These are opportunities for leading the way for greater consciousness and awareness of the “incident” in the flow of life–not just “a” life (though priceless).

Although the specifics of the situations and circumstances cannot always be anticipated, organizations and teams can and do train for many ‘what ifs’ and prepare to do the job at hand if and when it comes up.

It is hard to imagine that leadership in the NFL and in sports networks like ESPN (and many others) would not have role-played, “What if a football player dies on the spot, as the result of a hit on the field?” It isn’t incomprehensible, is it?

Ed Hochuli, a longtime N.F.L. referee who worked hundreds of games, spoke candidly after he retired in 2018 about what he had witnessed on the field. In every game, he said, there were “a half a dozen times” when he worried: “Oh, my god, how’s that guy going to get up off the ground? He’s got to be dead.”

This is a known, obvious, eventuality. How can the NFL and its media channels not be prepared to manage the immediate communication?

Seriously, the sad, quiet, air, was not a good look. Even at the level of economic self-interest, leadership should want to protect the NFL brand. Plan and practice. Just like the players putting themselves at risk. The adults behind the adults in the room (NFL and ESPN leadership) should know better.

~Will Keiper, co-author with Steve Chandler of The Leader and The Coach: The Art of Humanity in Leadership and The Well-Being Bucket List
All posts
#leadership #leadershipcoaching #businesscoach #coachingleaders #leadershipdevelopment #executivecoaching #leaderascoach #awareness #consciousleadership

The Leader & The Coach by Steve Chandler & Will Keiper
Share This
Scroll to Top