OVERTIME: ESPN botches coverage of tragedy

The 2011 NHL offseason will likely be remembered as the summer from hell.

Actually, let me rephrase that in ESPN terms: it will be remembered as the summer where some bad stuff happened, and then we got to watch football again.

The NHL’s troubles started when former player Derek Boogaard passed away in May from a lethal mix of oxycodone and alcohol.

Following the Vancouver Canucks’ 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals, Vancouver fans and citizens took to the streets, where they burned vehicles, plundered shops and caused havoc like the city had never before seen.

Then, two NHL players, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, died 16 days apart in August. Rypien committed suicide, while the cause of Belak’s death, believed to be suicide, is still unknown.

However, the deaths and riots paled in comparison to what occurred Wednesday near Yaroslavl, Russia.

A Yak-42 passenger airplane carrying Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, a team in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, crashed after striking an aircraft tower mast shortly after takeoff.

Nearly everyone on board perished. Almost all of the 26 players were announced dead at the scene. All 11 members of the coaching and training staff were killed, and seven of the eight airplane crew members died.

The two survivors were player Alexander Galimov, who is in critical condition with extensive burns covering his body, and flight engineer Alexander Sizov, whose condition is also listed as critical.

Several notable names were on the flight. Players Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei, Josef Vasicek, Karlis Skrastins, Karel Rachunek, Alexander Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev and coach Brad McCrimmon had all spent considerable time in the NHL.

Various media outlets scrambled to get information and keep the public informed. Yahoo! Sports, the BBC and CNN all had reports on their internet pages relatively quickly.

One big outlet is missing from that list: ESPN.

ESPN could barely be bothered to give the situation its due attention. The accident took place just after 8 a.m. Eastern time. It took until after 3 p.m. for ESPN to post something other than a small story about what had happened, according to the blog Thrashing the Blues.

There is truly something wrong with those who decide what is newsworthy at ESPN. Hockey has never been heavily covered by the station in comparison to football, basketball and baseball, and that is okay.

What is not okay is when a sports team goes down in a fiery wreck and ESPN, the “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” says next to nothing about it for seven hours.

Maybe this matters more to me because I recognized several names on the flight. However, even if the plane had gone down carrying 45 hockey players I had never heard of in my life, a media outlet that calls itself the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” should really have more than a short story about the incident on its website.

What is even more frustrating is what ESPN’s television program, Sportscenter, determined to be breaking news shortly after 1:00 pm.

An aircraft accident resulting in the deaths of multiple sports figures took a backseat to Peyton Manning and his neck.

Manning was not on his deathbed or severely injured. He was out for the first week of NFL action with an injury and will take a couple months to recover.

This is what ESPN calls breaking news.

ESPN’s coverage failure is a bigger deal than those within the company would care to admit. ESPN’s website moderators were deleting comments made by those being critical of the company’s lack of coverage, according to Thrashing the Blues.

There may be those who feel that I would not be so hard on ESPN if this were an airplane crash involving 45 individuals unassociated with major league sports.

Any such argument is ridiculous. ESPN’s job is to cover everything sports. Just because the airplane did not come crashing down onto a football game does not mean the accident should not be covered.

This was a sports-related accident. ESPN did not treat it as such.

Media outlets do make mistakes when covering stories. Hopefully ESPN will regroup and do something to make up for its lack of coverage here.

Looking at ESPN’s website at 3:24 p.m., I saw one link to a story about the accident under the “headlines” tab, as well as a very small box near the bottom of the page with three more links.

May the 43 individuals who died on the flight rest in peace. Hopefully the two survivors of the crash will recover and go on to live happy, healthy lives.

As for ESPN, something needs to change. It’s time for the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” to live up to its title.


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