I’m sorry, Mr. & Mrs. Kumaritashvili.

(Image from here.)

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.

And yet…

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.

36 responses to “I’m sorry, Mr. & Mrs. Kumaritashvili.

  1. This is a beautiful post. A death is obviously always a cause for mourning, but the blatant exploitation of any tragedy by the media is a rampant problem. It seems that I can’t watch the news anymore, or read a magazine, without having to see painful portrayals of a family’s grief. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Agreed, it is a level of exploitation that serves no purpose but to shock. Nothing of any real value is gained. It is good to know others feel the same.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I agree completely with you that the purpose of such photos and footage is merely sensational. I was appalled to see the still image on the news website that I read, and refused to look any more.

    And I am sorry for your loss of your Uncle and Cousin. ((hugs))

  4. I too feel this way. A great post Ginny

  5. i am disgusted with the concept of the video/book versions of “Faces of Death”. Do not wish to see them under any circumstances. But at least the pushers of such crap are honest with themselves about what they are doing – exploiting the misfortune of others for entertainment. The news media doesn’t even own up to that… very sad.

  6. This is how I feel about people who lookie-loo at bad car accidents. If it’s just a minor bash-up I like to look because to me, what cars physically do when they crash is interesting, but if there’s an ambulance there I always, always look away. I’ve been in wrecks myself, and it’s so personal, the thing that ruins your day or week or year, and I don’t want to be one of the people watching by the side of the road, making the experience a hundred times more humiliating.

  7. Nobody needs to see it. It serves no purpose.

    The scrambles that take place for these pieces of footage or to break the news irritate me no end.

  8. The “Today Show” ran the clip this morning between 7:00 and 7:30, CT. I couldn’t believe it. No sense of dignity, modesty, or respect.

  9. Ugh. I looked away too. And plugged my ears. What a horrible thing to show over and over. And no, newscasters, it was not “necessary to tell the story”.

  10. When I read that the video was taken off of You Tube I told my husband that was a good move. My answer to him when he asked me why?, was, “well I wouldn’t want that to be you or anyone else I love for all the world to see and make speculations”
    For me the photo was bad enough, I had to turn away.

  11. Bless you Ginny. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to watch another person die.

  12. anyone still deluding themselves that “news” has anything to do with actual news is being a bit naive, it’s entertainment pure and simple, sensational entertainment at that, if we wanted real news we would pass laws that eliminated sponsors thereby hopefully removing agendas and the need to sell crap… needless to say it’s a tragedy and if you look at what some of the other competitors were saying it was bound to happen sooner or later, one even said she felt like a crash test dummie.

  13. I read about his death by accident when a bit of random surfing led me to Wikipedia deaths by day. I saw how young he was and that he had died just a few hours before I saw the info. I was curious, what had happened, what events or series of events had cut his life so short. I saw that the video footage was being posted over and over again, as fast as the Olympic people could take it down. I saw the links to the footage, even clicked over, probably because it was something some people didn’t want you to see, I was thinking more of people who didn’t want the beginnings of the games sullied. I watched the very beginning of Nodar and then I clicked the x and closed the window. I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to, it was sad enough to know it happened.

  14. Heartfelt post. Good call.

  15. Ginny, what a horrible thing for you and your family to see in the paper and to know that your relatives last moments were exploited.

    I’m with you, I have no desire to see that and I feel for the family who are already traumatized. What a disgrace.

  16. I didn’t know there was a video. Why would anyone want to see it? Watch a video of a man dying… That’s insane.

  17. Our news didn’t even give us the warning that yours did! They were reporting on his death and with no time to change the channel they cut to the video of the accident. It’s been haunting my brain ever since.

    I hope his family can’t even imagine how heartbreaking that must be for his family…just as your experience was with your cousin.

    • I had same prob – had a news flash and they just said he had been killed and showed it – didn’t have a chance NOT to look and it felt awful.

      I know this might be a bit controversial and off topic but I remember when Saddam Hussein was hanged and there were pics of him, just before it happened….that felt wrong too (not that I want to compare a mass murderer with an innocent Olympian) but I just mean that it is such a shocking and ‘private’ moment – the whole world doesn’t need to see it.

  18. Great Post Ginny. Both events were tragedies that it does no one good to witness.

  19. I haven’t seen the footage of the accident. I refuse to watch it.

    I just cannot imagine spending my entire life to train for something and dying right before I get to do it. My only solace is that he died doing something he loved to do.

  20. Well said — I wholeheartedly agree with you. The media went completely overboard, well beyond the bounds of decency and good taste, in replaying those images. I’ve written about that at greater length on my blog: http://cuylercampbell.wordpress.com/2010/02/13/for-shame/

    Kudos to you for speaking out on this and condolences for your family’s tragedy several years ago.

  21. On some levels, I disagree with the concept that the footage is purely sensational. There is definitely and undeniably an aspect of the media that sensationalizes news, but it is still news. It brings awareness that the governing bodies in these tragedies, the IOC in this case, are not doing everything in their power to ensure safety.

    I saw the footage and there’s absolutely no way that track should have passed any safety inspection. That final turn at around 150 KPH with a tiny wall opening to steel pillars should have been a giant red flag before the first run was allowed. To deny the footage is to allow these governing bodies to avoid the responsibility that only public scrutiny can impose. It’s tragic, horrific, and misused by most without a doubt, but I fear the consequences of not showing such footage far more than the consequences of showing it.

    • Shushnik, you raise a good point. The only real justification for showing the images would be to draw attention to the failures of the IOC.

      But was that really their goal? Remember the Iranian girl who was killed last summer during the election protests — the major networks, at least here in the U.S., all refused to show the video clip in its entirety. And, let’s be honest, that was an instance in which raising public outrage had much more global significance than it would regarding this unfortunate luge accident.

      The real motivation for showing the clips was to make more money by appealing to our basest desires.

      More on my blog at http://cuylercampbell.wordpress.com/2010/02/13/for-shame/ if you are interested.

  22. When I was a kid, this was called rubber-necking. You’d drive past a horrific accident on the highway and the traffic would slow down — on both sides of the median — because of people slowing down and craning their necks to take a look.

    My mother was a registered nurse. She would look long enough to ascertain whether she should get out and help. If not, we drove by as fast as the traffic allowed with my parents’ strick admonishment that we were not to look, not to ogle other people’s tragedy.

    I don’t know what it is about humans that makes us so curious about blood and gore and death and tragedy. We revel in it.

    For the last week, my 14-year-old daughter has been working on a school project about the medieval period. She had research and build some kind of simulation of a medieval torture device in all its grim detail. What the heck is that about? Same thing — our fascination with blood and gore and tragedy.

    It is one of the worst aspects of humanity, I think.

    My deepest regrets to the young man’s parents. He was the same age as my older daughter. I cannot imagine sending my child off for such a shining, golden moment and having him come home in a box.

    I did not, and will not, watch the video.

  23. Amen, sister. While on an entirely atavistic level I understand why the media whores … er, outlets … insist on pimping out the private and overwhelming pain and sorrow of anyone and everyone for the almighty dollar, over on my humane side I am truly shamed by it all, and don’t have the vocabulary to put into words how soul-numbing and unnecessary it is.

  24. Thank you Ginny. I’m often horrified by what fascinates people and my wish is this post touches some people out there who might not have thought about things from this perspective. No one needs to be privy to these images. No one should want to be.

  25. I avoid the Olympics. I can’t watch my stories. I needs my stories.

  26. And yes, sad sad. Poor luger. I don’t mean to be crass. Thank you for not writing the exact same thing as everyone else.

  27. I had just tuned into the news and obviously had missed the caveat….absolutely horrific. I felt so bad for his family, this tragedy forever captured in a “soundbite”. They should not have shown it. Watching the palpable grief on his team mates faces in the opening ceremonies was more then enough.

  28. I’m with you. I thought that to be one of the most tactless, ratings-grabbing reports any reporter ever did. It was cruel and unusual punishment and I refused to watch it. I put myself in the shoes of that young man’s family members and I wouldn’t want that for any of my family, how does his family rate any less.

  29. At some point the news media (or fact based infotainment as it should be called) crossed a line about showing pictures of dead bodies. Then it crossed a line about showing videos of deaths. I suspect that next they will send reporters out to just kill people live on the TV.

  30. Please stop by at your convenience and visit my Unexpected Gifts tab. There you will find an award under the heading Getting Krafty. The rules are there if you care to participate but more importantly I want you to know that I think you are creative and inspiring. Thank you for being one of the reasons I keep blogging.

  31. I haven’t looked and I won’t look. This is an incredibly tragic event and it does not need to be sensationalized.

    I cannot imagine losing my loved one this way and then having the loss recorded and replayed on an endless loop for prosperity. Awful. Just awful.

  32. Thank you for talking about this. I have never written a letter to an editor, to a newspaper, then two, three weeks ago – the NYTimes had an image of a dead man in it’s first picture slot of it’s pictorial. And I thought to myself “why?”

    I wrote to them what I write here. I grew up in a time where you didn’t publish pictures of the dead. Ever. I remember several years later, as a teen, seeing the booted foot of a dead soldier – and getting lightheaded and pressing my forehead to the kitchen table. So I wrote to the Times and said “To what purpose? This is someones father, brother, son, husband. To what purpose do you need to show him laid on the street. Where is the respect? The dignity? ” It’s not news. It’s not so we “feel” the devastation thus donate more. And they had JUST published an article about footage of a soldier dying and how the father felt that that was public. It’s – reprehensible. Andf= the answer isn’t “Well turn it off, turn the page” It’s when is enough enough. We go too far.

    You already said it in your post so I won’t wax on here. But honestly. I hear you. There’s no need.

    And I’m sorry for your loss as well.

  33. The morbid curiosity in me wants to see the footage. But I wont watch it even if the opportunity presents itself. The way I see it, footage of his run up until he leaves the track is useful, but only to the right people (engineers, physicists, who ever designs these tracks). They might be able to figure out what went wrong, why he went off the track from that footage. But its useless to the rest of us. We wont get anything out of it. And the actual crash part after he left the track, the part that killed him? Seeing that wont help anyone.

  34. You are so right, Ginny. I wouldn’t watch something like that either. I don’t see what purpose it serves to see it. I remember a few years back when that video of that poor kid being beheaded (Nick Berg, I think was his name) was all over the internet. I was appalled that people would ever want to watch the final, agonizing moments of a person’s life. How horrendous.

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