Mike Claiborne, the morning on-air host at sports talk radio station KFNS in St. Louis, said that when the United States was poised for war last month, the station's staff wrestled with a question that television and radio broadcasters have pondered since the war began: What is the correct way to present sports events when the country's attention is on the life-and-death realities of war?
"We were concerned with the issues of how to include war coverage into our shows," said Claiborne, who has been at the station for 12 years.
The station got its answer from its listeners.
"Besides the occasional phone call for someone who wants to show support to the troops, most people wanted us to continue talking about sports," Claiborne said. "It's a safe haven from all the war coverage. Most people want to be informed, but they don't want to be inundated with news on the war."
To varying degrees, most of the nation's major television broadcasters have echoed this sentiment. They know the significance of a basketball game or golf match is dwarfed by the events in Iraq, but they also say that the masses need diversions.
"With so much war coverage, the [NCAA men's basketball tournament] has been a healthy diversion," said Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports. "The public can temporarily take their mind off a tough situation in Iraq."
But what is the right approach to take so that a network doesn't appear callous or frivolous while televising what amounts to fun and games?
While sports directors are trying to deliver the product that fans tune in for, there is no doubt that the war has impacted coverage.
No network has felt the impact like CBS. On March 20-21, CBS Sports shifted afternoon games of the NCAA men's basketball tournament to ESPN so CBS's news division could televise war coverage. McManus has said he has noticed that coverage of this year's tournament has been more subdued.
John Thompson, the former Georgetown basketball coach who is now a radio and television broadcaster, is noted for his outspokenness. But even Thompson says that when discussing the war on the air he is careful.
A producer at TNT, a network that employs Thompson to analyze NBA games, cautioned him and other commentators to be "conscious of using war analogies" during broadcasts.
ABC and ESPN have, like TNT, reminded announcers to be sensitive about language and humor, said spokesmen for the companies.
Sports announcers are famous for comparing competitions to war, and it's not unusual for them to punctuate their language with references to battle. It's common to hear a closely contested game described as a "war," or a highly skilled player dubbed a "warrior" or a "hero."
That doesn't include terms that have worked their way into official sports terminology, such as "bomb," "blitz" and "sack."
Bandying about such language may demean the efforts of the nation's servicemen and servicewomen as they wage a real war in Iraq, the television officials said.
"I've got to be conscious of it. I've got to be sensitive to it," Thompson said. "You don't want to degrade or offend anybody or hurt somebody's loved one."
What broadcasters have also done in some situations is find areas where war and sports intersect. But again, they've had to be careful to avoid appearing to make light of a grave situation.
ESPN, for instance, has done features on an Olympic rower now in Qatar and on a pickup basketball league that has cropped up in the city near Central Command, said the network's vice president of news, Vince Doria.
"We've looked for stories we think are of interest to our viewers, who are also interested in what is going on in the Middle East," Doria said. "Obviously, we are working on the periphery of this story and there are really far more serious aspects to it."
While most sports media executives said it's good not to ignore the war, there are other journalists better suited to addressing it. "That's why there is a news division," McManus said. "We have sports divisions for sports and the news divisions cover news."
A sports announcer focusing too much on the war can cause controversy.
On March 22, during a broadcast aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Don Cherry, host of one of the most popular sports programs in Canada, "Hockey Night in Canada," denounced Canadian hockey fans who booed when the U.S. national anthem was played before an NHL game last month.
During a seven-minute debate with co-host Ron MacLean, Cherry also voiced his support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Cherry repeated some of his statements on Monday when interviewed by a U.S. radio host.
Cherry said it was "a damn shame" Canada wasn't supporting the United States in Iraq and again blasted fans for booing during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
The CBC disassociated itself from Cherry's comments, calling them "inappropriate and uninformed."
A CBC spokeswoman said Wednesday that the government-owned network has no wish to prevent Cherry from stating his views but that it "didn't feel 'Hockey Night' was the proper forum for discussion on Iraq. The subject manner should have been about hockey."