Live event television moves quickly. Not only does the production team have to decide on the fly which camera angles of the main action are most appealing to the audience at the right time, they also need shots that give viewers the feeling that they are at the venue.
It’s why on regional sports networks sideline reporters go into the stands to chat with fans, highlight the giveaway for the night, or maybe even talk to a local legend. Offering a glimpse of what is going on at the stadium improves the quality of the broadcast. The crowd is a part of the show. Getting to see them as more than a mass of tens of thousands of people makes the broadcast feel more intimate. Live event television is still storytelling. In order to do it well, the storyteller must include all of the details.
A major part of the story of the Sunday Night Baseball broadcast in Williamsport, Pa., was the little leaguers in the stands. The game is literally called the Little League Classic. Participants in the Little League World Series gathered to watch the big leaguers in action — the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles. It would defeat the purpose of the event for youngsters to not be on camera frequently.
But when dealing with children, not all footage is good footage. They may be outstanding baseball players, but they’re still kids. When they do something that they shouldn’t, it’s the adults’ responsibility to correct the action, and also to decide whether or not those actions are appropriate to be aired on television.
For about 30 seconds, the Sunday Night Baseball broadcast focused on the team from Davenport, Iowa. Specifically, a few white players surrounding one of their Black teammates. They had received stuffed animals, and I’m guessing that while young they’re still a bit too old to truly appreciate that type of souvenir. So what the camera caught was a group of white boys sticking cotton in the hair of a Black boy.
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The shot started with ESPN’s Karl Ravech making a quick remark about what was going on, “that’s just little leaguers being little leaguers right there.” Then the broadcast stayed on them for his entire promotion of next week’s Sunday night game between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals.
A coach or team parent would be wise to have explained to the kids that night why they shouldn’t adorn their Black teammate with cotton. It’s unfortunate the players didn’t think about it at the time, but we’ve still gotta make sure to keep CRT away from our youth right? For the record, Little League officials did investigate the matter — including talking to the coaches and the Black player’s mother — and concluded that there was no racist intent.
The biggest fail in that moment, however, was by the people working on that broadcast for ESPN. This wasn’t some small production company that the network hired out to work a high-school game and might fail to realize that Bishop Sycamore isn’t a real high school. In this case, America’s premier sports network’s featured MLB broadcast, aired white children singling out a Black child with cotton.
How did no one think that would be a bad look for everyone involved? A clip like that in 2022 is going to go viral. Unfortunately, that boy is going to live forever on the internet, and be part of a conversation that I doubt he wants any part of. Also, full-grown adult television professionals should know that a Black person covered in cotton is not appropriate in any way for television. No situation where it appears a child is being singled out should be aired, but a decision to run with that particular footage should result in ESPN live game crews immediately going through some compliance training.
They embarrassed families, and offended many who saw the clip. I’m sure there were plenty of other little leaguers in the stadium that night. There were plenty of better ways to promote next week’s game than spending 30 seconds watching a Black boy get cotton put on his head.
Live television moves quickly, but nothing moves so quickly that an entire broadcast crew would fail to realize that shot is a bad idea.