One of the most crucial and dramatic plays in college football this year also featured a season-ending injury that remains painful to look at. How do you weigh the import of the moment with sensitivity to the injured player? If you're one Alabama newspaper, you put it on the front page of the sports section—and you deal with the hate mail.
(Photo possibly NSFW. If you're sensitive, don't scroll down. But it's really not that bad.)
Ole Miss looked to take the lead over Auburn with 1:30 remaining as WR Laquon Treadwell streaked toward the end zone. But he was pulled down from behind and dropped the ball less than a yard shy of paydirt. Replays showed that he had gruesomely twisted his ankle. Treadwell, who suffered a broken fibula and a dislocated ankle, underwent surgery that night and is out for the year.
Auburn hung on to win, and that play—that injury—was the immediate reason why. So on Sunday morning, the Opelika-Auburn News put a great shot of the fumble, taken by staff photographer Todd Van Emst, on its sports front:
In an editorial published yesterday evening, the paper says it received "dozens" of messages expressing anger with the choice to use the photo, especially under that headline. But the News' editorial board defended at least the first decision.
However, it was also one of the most crucial plays in a contest between two top-five college football teams. The picture is gut-wrenching. It also tells the story. That's why we chose to run it. As journalists, our primary job is to report what happens – whether by words or photos. Often, what we write or publish is unpleasant. Regarding the photo, this was one of those instances. We did not intend to glorify Treadwell's injury or offend any reader. To any person hurt by our editorial decision, we apologize.
Our staff has already spent several hours discussing Sunday's decisions, and we'll continue to do that in the next few days. If we could redesign Sunday's 1B again, we would. One thing we would do is use a different headline. We chose "FINDING A WAY" because after the game, numerous players and coaches discussed how the team keeps fighting and finding a way to win difficult games, such as those against Ole Miss, South Carolina and Kansas State.
The headline was not meant to celebrate Treadwell's injury. No true fan takes pleasure in the injury. It was a terrible ending for one of the best games of the season, regardless of one's collegiate allegiances. Our newspaper joins fans throughout America in wishing Treadwell a speedy recovery. Our thoughts and prayers are also with his family.
I think that's about right. If you've got an exclusive photo of the exact moment your hometown team preserved its final-four hopes against all odds, you use it. And Treadwell's injury—which looks a lot worse on video than in a still photo—doesn't quite rise to the level of being graphic enough to avoid.
The moment caught a lot of reporters awkwardly trying to balance the game-changing fumble with the sight of Treadwell being carted off. Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel quickly deleted this Tweet after catching shit:
He followed up with this:
Very reasonable. (Certainly more reasonable that most of the people jumping down his throat.) It could have been a lot worse, as it was for one Rivals.com writer who thought the time was ripe for a Civil Rights joke:
Ketchum deleted the Tweet and spent the rest of the night apologizing profusely. It wasn't quite enough. In a statement on Sunday, Rivals.com said Ketchum has been suspended.
Our view: Best wishes for Laquon Treadwell [Opelika-Auburn News]