The Winter Olympics hadn’t even begun, when they ended for one man.
Today, twenty-one year old Nodar Kumaritashvili died when he flew off the luge track in Whistler, while training before the games. It is simply awful, terrible, tragic, gut-wrenching.
And, unfortunately, interesting.
There are so many questions: What happened? How fast was he going? Was it driver error? Was the track unsafe? Who’s to blame?
This isn’t something that happens a lot. Despite the dangers involved in shooting down a track of ice, at speeds 40 miles per hour over the speed limit with basically no protection, there are relatively few deaths in the sport. And I’m as curious as the next guy. I got home, turned on the news, and looked for answers.
But I got more than that.
The special, Olympics-dedicated anchors came on, giving the latest details. Then, the male anchor lowered his voice, looked directly into the camera.
“We struggled with the decision to air this next piece of footage. Please note that it may disturb some…”
Eight years ago, I lost my uncle and cousin in a car accident. It happened on a rural stretch of road, far away from any large urban centre or news gathering agencies.
When I opened the morning paper the next day at work, in a city hundreds of miles away from where the accident had happened, there were the pictures. Pictures of what was left of the front end of their min-van, laying in jagged pieces. A wheel from my cousin’s wheelchair, laying half-in, half-out of the snow. And the “money-shot”- a small stuffed toy, surrounded by broken glass.
Did those images offer any insight into what could only tangentially be considered a news story? Did they give anyone a better understanding of how they might prevent future accidents?
No, they didn’t.
They were salacious and exploitative and gratuitous.
They were there for the express purpose of pulling people’s heartstrings, satisfying their morbid curiosity, which had been heightened by the media in the first place. And I felt like those pictures were there at my family’s expense.
So when the anchor told me the footage of this man’s death was going to be shown, I didn’t watch. I couldn’t.
What was the point of actually witnessing this man’s death?
I don’t know where this athlete’s parents and siblings and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends are. I don’t know if they had to see this.
But I want them to know that I didn’t.
I didn’t look.