By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Everybody makes mistakes. On live television, misstatements and mini-blunders are inevitable.
Yet Joe Buck — the preeminent sports broadcaster of this era — made what was perhaps the single worst call in sports history on Thursday night. No, that is not hyperbole.
The statement from Buck came early in the second quarter. Earlier in the game, Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. suffered an injury that was obviously very serious and very concerning. Parham tried to make a diving catch in the back of the end zone, but his head whipped against the turf. His arms immediately went up in the fencing response, his eyes were closed, and he appeared to be unconscious (which America saw clearly, thanks to a camera operator — who could not have been sure Parham just got seriously injured — sprinting to stick a camera in Parham’s face).
Parham remained on the turf for several minutes, eventually getting immobilized on a stretcher and taken off the field. The broadcast showed Parham’s arms convulsing as he was taken off the field, with his face showing obvious pain.
This was a treacherous moment, of course. Yet Buck tried to assuage viewers’ fears and concerns (after the broadcast showed a slow-motion replay of Parham being stretchered off the field again) by insinuating that Parham might have just been shivering because it was an unseasonably cool night in Los Angeles.
“The last thing we would ever do is speculate about any injury, especially that type,” Buck said before immediately speculating on the injury. “But when you see his arms shaking and his hands shaking on his way out, that’s the part that’s most unnerving. I will just add that it is very cold, at least by Los Angeles standards, down on the field. Hopefully that was more the issue than anything else.”
Joe Buck: “We aren’t going to speculate about Donald Parham”
Also Joe Buck: “But hey, it’s cold so maybe that’s why a guy who just suffered a head injury is shaking” pic.twitter.com/ciePUztRK8
— Josh Hill (@jdavhill) December 17, 2021
The commentary, at best, is idiotic. Suggesting a player was shivering uncontrollably in a game being played indoors in a city where the temperature is in the 50s is almost unfathomably stupid.
At worst, the commentary was a half-hearted attempt to try to convince the viewing audience that it did not just witness a traumatic brain injury being suffered on live TV.
Chris Nowinski, the co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, called the moment “rock bottom for sports broadcasting.” His thoughts help shed a light on the serious nature of brain injuries, a matter which was grossly downplayed by Buck with a comment about the air temperature.
“We’ve had a long week working with the families of Vincent Jackson and Phillip Adams to share their CTE diagnoses, tragic deaths at 38 & 32, and provide context for the 6 people, including 2 young children, killed by Adams,” Nowinski tweeted. “The emptiness I felt today is now filled by rage.”
Certainly, Nowinski wasn’t the only viewer appalled by Buck’s decision to try to suggest that Parham had just been chilly.
Because the NFL can’t square it’s legal stance on CTE with its want to be more delicate with TBIs, I have to hear Joe Buck speculate about the weather causing a player on a stretcher to convulse.
I’ll always love the game, but I’ll always hate the way people have to dance.
— Diante Lee (@PFF_DLee) December 17, 2021
Remove Joe Buck's microphone immediately. https://t.co/KjMy0G51X6
— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) December 17, 2021
How can Joe Buck be an NFL broadcaster for nearly 30 years and not understand that Parham Jr. was clearly concussed? https://t.co/L7HRIas7p5
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 17, 2021
This is an outrage. I’m in LA and it’s 48 degrees. No one I know in LA is experiencing arm tremors from the weather here. The player has a serious traumatic brain injury. Hope he’s going to be ok. https://t.co/ZgwBpr3vn3
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) December 17, 2021
Buck didn’t mention his “cold by Los Angeles standards” comment for the rest of the night.
In somewhat positive news, the Chargers announced that Parham was in stable condition at a local hospital. That, of course, is more important than the play-by-play announcer’s speculation. And anyone who watched the game is surely hoping that the 24-year-old Parham can recover as fully as possible.
Yet the statement made by Buck on the national broadcast was unbelievable in the moment, and it’s only become more and more bewildering with every minute that has passed since it aired on Thursday night.