It’s as much a fixture of March Madness as shocking upsets and squeaky sneaker noises. But this year there are increasing calls for TV cameras to lay off those images of children weeping inconsolably when their basketball team loses.
Often, those tearful images become memes or are used in tweets that are shared a seemingly infinite number of times. Is it time for broadcasters to stop showing the distraught young kids?
“It’s part of the drama and the storytelling of the tournament,” CBS executive producer Harold Bryant told Yahoo, speaking for that network and Turner, the networks that carry the NCAA tournament. “It’s part of the emotion. We try to capture the emotion and we try to strike that right balance.”
Still, these are kids and they often are, to put it mildly, mocked for their emotional breakdowns. Maybe, unlike adults, they haven’t yet had the life-crushing experience of seeing their favorite teams lose a last-minute heartbreaker. Do you remember the first time the team you root for lost in crushing fashion? Tom Brady’s kids were roped into a similar conversation after the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia, when Gisele Bündchen explained to two of their crying kids that Daddy couldn’t win all the time.
Bryant, the producer, stresses that this is all part of the story. The “right balance” was his go-to description, according to Yahoo’s Henry Bushnell, when asked whether zeroing in on kids was a too-convenient way to amp up the drama.
“We show happy kids, we show sad kids, we show happy adults, we show players that are happy, we show players that are sad, crying on the benches or on the floor,” Bryant told Yahoo. “We do our best, throughout all of these games, throughout the tournament, to strike that proper balance.”
And imagine what the tournament-closing “One Shining Moment” montage would be without those quick snippets of tears, whether they’re from kids, players, parents or cheerleaders.
Bushnell pointed out that the images seem more prevalent this March, a year after video of the son of Northwestern Athletic Director Jim Phillips went viral.
100% serious. #NorthwesternKid is me at that age. Living and dying w every bucket. TV cutaway to him 13 times during broadcast. Got a hug at end!
Posted by Dave Noriega-KSL on Saturday, March 18, 2017
And Turner was criticized when truTV showed “crying ASU kid,” a boy in an Arizona State jersey who was weeping his eyes out as Syracuse pulled off a first-round upset last week. The boy was GIF-worthy, and cameras repeatedly showed him as a woman comforted him. “Shame on you,” one social media user tweeted. Others just urged producers to just stop already.
Just as with the Phillips child in 2017, it turned out that this story went deeper. “Crying ASU kid” happens to be the son of one of the team’s athletic trainers. Which means that, as with the Brady children after the Super Bowl, the disappointment was more deeply personal.
As Bryant points out, it’s not the broadcaster’s fault when the Internet gets snarky, as it did after Cincinnati’s loss to Nevada.
And yet the criticism persists. Sports Media Watch tweeted that the images are “the cheapest way to convey drama. … Beyond anything else, it’s just lazy.” And that opinion has plenty of supporters.
“Surely I’m not the only one who hates seeing TV cameras focus on children crying in the stands,” wrote St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Jose de Jesus Ortiz. “I hated seeing the young girl crying after Tennessee lost. Why not give the girl space and focus on adults if you need to exploit folks in tears?”
“The problem with the children crying is it is unneeded and gratuitous,” wrote New York Post columnist Andrew Marchand, who urged the broadcasters to alter their approach.
“It just seems cruel and exploitative,” wrote Awful Announcing’s Matt Yoder. “No other broadcast at a sporting event seems to play the ‘crying kid’ card as much as the NCAA Tournament. Not even the Little League World Series! And yet after almost universal criticism for showing crying kids in the bleachers, the broadcasters of the NCAA Tournament are still doing it.”
“Can we get all the network heads together and make an agreement to stop showing crying kids???” asked SiriusXM host Danny Kanell.
The networks “really needs to stop showing crying kids in the stands,” wrote Buffalo News columnist Mike Harrington, calling the practice “just dumb.”
Still, the images aren’t likely to disappear. Not when they’re a shorthand way to convey an agony/ecstasy story angle, as tired as it is, in a tournament that demands networks so quickly swivel from game to game.
“We can’t control what people are doing on the Internet,” Bryant told Bushnell. “We’ve gotta strike a balance. We’ve gotta be journalistic and cover the story.”
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