By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
Like millions of other college basketball fans on Sunday, my eyes were glued to the big screen, watching two of the top programs in the sport — Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals and Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils — go at it for the last spot in the Final Four.
The incident happened so quickly, I missed it in real time. I saw Cardinals guard Kevin Ware run toward the top of the screen, near his bench, but the shot wasn’t a close-up — thank goodness.
Seconds later, CBS instead was showing players from both teams in obvious agony, but I had no idea why. A split second later, I figured it out — someone was injured so badly, they couldn’t show it on network television. (After a short time, they did show it twice, but only from a wide-angle shot — and blessedly, that’s the last that live viewers saw of it.)
To call it gruesome would be an understatement. Ware was trying to contest a 3-point shot by the Devils, and planted his foot the wrong way.
His leg snapped like a twig.
It’s clinically called a compound fracture, which in this case meant the bone was actually protruding through the skin.
It happened right in front of Pitino, who later said he nearly became sick.
I’ve been in the news business longer than I care to admit, and I’ve seen my share of bloody scenes on both the news and sports sides. I’ve covered wrecks where there was two separate tarps covering what’s left of one victim. One of my best friends was sheared in half when a drunk driver on I-20/59 — an off-duty Birmingham cop — rammed his SUV going 100 miles an hour.
By now, I should be numb to what I saw then, and what I saw again on Sunday.
But not even the most hardened journalist ever gets used to it, no matter what they say. And Sunday’s freak injury to Ware reminds us that the rah-rah world of sports is not immune to the really ugly, horrific side of life.
We’ve seen it before. It was a only matter of minutes Sunday before someone mentioned Joe Theismann, and the similar break he suffered on Monday Night Football at the hands of linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Theismann, whose football career ended with that injury, was quick to tweet his support of Ware.
Unlike CBS, ABC chose to replay that hit over and over. The clip lives on in the opening of the movie “The Blind Side.”
Of course, here in Alabama we’re all too familiar with Tyrone Prothro’s injury in the game against Florida in 2005; his football career ended that day. There’s also South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, who badly injured his knee last year against Tennessee. He’s not done, though, as Lattimore has declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft, in hopes that doctors in the league can perform a miracle.
And then there was Clint Malarchuk, the goalie for hockey’s Buffalo Sabres, who almost bled to death during a game. Steve Tuttle of the St. Louis Blues was in a scrum with another player; Tuttle slipped, and his skate blade sliced open Malarchuk’s cartoid artery. By some miracle he survived, but two fans in the stands reportedly suffered heart attacks at the sight of the carnage.
And of course, those in motorsports cheat death week in and week out. Sometimes they don’t; 52 drivers have perished in NASCAR alone, 12 of them at Daytona. We still miss you, Dale, Neil, Kenny, Adam and Clifford.
Ware may not be done. After emergency surgery at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis — the same place that injured drivers from the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 are taken — Ware had a rod put in his leg, and was already up on crutches Monday with a full cast in place. He will likely travel with the Louisville team to the Final Four in Atlanta, his hometown.
We look to sports as an escape from our everyday lives, precisely to get away from such tragedies. Alas, the real world has a bad way of encroaching on our diversions, jarring us back to reality and reminding us why sports doctors James Andrews and Larry Lemak do what they do.
Get well soon, Kevin Ware.